Graham Rahal says that the potential in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team was the main spark behind his decision to join the team for the 2013 IndyCar season. The team confirmed Rahal's multi-year deal Wednesday, bringing to an end the 23-year-old's two-season stint with Ganassi.
Rahal said that he looked forward to building upon what the team had achieved in 2012, when Takuma Sato made it onto the podium at Edmonton and Sao Paolo, and was in contention to win the Indy 500 before crashing on the final lap.
"This is probably the most excited I have been to join any team," Rahal said. "I see the potential behind what the team have been able to accomplish over the last year with Takuma, and knowing the development and other things that the team will now have the time to do to prepare for the season makes me more thrilled to be here."
Rahal last drove for the team co-owned by his father, three-time series champion and 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby, at Indianapolis in 2010. He said that the timing was right for them to be reunited full-time.
"I have been asked when I was going to drive for my dad's team my whole life! On average I would say that probably one of every two or three interviews I have done in my career, I have been asked that question. For me, it was about timing and making sure everything was right in order for it to happen," he explained. "This has been years in the making, but it really took effect when my [contract] option was up on Aug.1. That's when we sat down and said, 'Hey, this really does make the most sense.'
"Not only does it erase all the questions in my mind about knowing where I stand in terms of the pecking order and level of commitment from a team, but also the marketing and media side of it. Dad and I working together with Dave [Letterman] and Mike [Lanigan] and our sponsors has huge potential."
Bobby Rahal admitted ensuring the team is able to juggle the professional and family dynamics is a concern.
"The whole family dynamic [could] be great in one way and in another could be destructive," he said. "Both of us have to make sure we treat each other with respect as professionals do. I think now is the right time; he's proven he belongs and has the respect of his peers, and that was the most important thing for me."
Graham, however, says the family connection doesn't change the level of pressure he will be under to perform.
“I don't think that it's any different because, to be honest, I put the same amount of pressure on myself no matter where I am or what I'm doing," explained the younger Rahal. "I put a lot of pressure on myself at Ganassi and at Newman/Haas and everywhere else I've been and now – maybe for the first time in my career – I can really just focus on the driving side of things. I'm very involved with the sponsor and that sort of stuff but here is an opportunity for me where I don't have to worry about the effort that is going into my program. I don't have to worry about the commitment level of each and every person on the team.
"My dad, Dave, Mike, and everyone on the team are not going to put me in a position where I can't succeed – particularly my dad. He is going to do everything he can to give me a 100 percent effort and that gives me a lot of confidence. I'm looking forward to that and focusing on getting better as a driver. There are things I've got to work on, like my qualifying, but I'm very optimistic about the potential of the program. I wouldn't say the pressure is any different.”
Graham said the dynamic between himself and his father is different from what he has seen of others in similar situations.
“My relationship is far different than any other family in racing," he said. "In a way, he (Bobby Rahal) is almost like my best friend. We spend so much time together. Our passion is the same. My mom often says that it's scary how much my father and I are similar. There is really not a concern about that to me. Yeah, we blow off some steam at each other every once in a while but I don't see that as being an issue with the program at all.
"Everybody here is full speed ahead and that shouldn't be a distraction for anyone. Dad and I work well together and, quite frankly, I always relied on him heavily no matter what team I have been on. I would always call him about an issue I was facing, so now at least he's there all the time and I don't have to go too far.”
RLL is still hoping to add a second car for 2013, although Bobby Rahal said that such plans are still some way from being finalized.