Graham Rahal has been the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most-talked about driver for months now, and with good reason. With two wins and more solid drives, the younger Rahal has catapulted himself into IndyCar championship contention. Coming off a victory at his hometown Honda Indy 200, Graham is hoping to become the season’s first three-race winner at today’s ABC Supply 500.
“We enter two of the biggest races of my career, and [I’m] certainly looking forward to it,” the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver told media members including IndyCar Examiner during a Wednesday conference call. “[The championship]’s right there, and we’re close, and we feel like we’re close. We feel like we’re capable. I think everybody on the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team is ready to capitalize on it.
“Certainly we’re riding a bit of a wave here lately. Things have definitely gone right. I think the guys are doing a tremendous job for us, and we’re excited by that,” Graham continued. “Pocono hasn’t been the best for us in the past, but with that being said, I think really that we’re in a great spot looking forward, and we’re definitely capable of having a great race this weekend, and I definitely feel confident going into Sonoma. I’m looking forward to the next couple.”
Everyone else he’s competing against has been in the thick of the hunt before, so does he feel like he might be at a bit of an experience disadvantage regardless of how much momentum he’s acquired?
“When I look at it and look at who we’re competing against, it would be pretty easy to get frazzled,” he conceded. “If you look at [Scott] Dixon, who I still think on an all-around basis he’s the best driver in IndyCar.
“[And] then I look at like [Juan Pablo] Montoya; Montoya is a guy that when I was a kid, I looked up to him. When he went to Formula One and stuff, I sat there and watched on Sundays just to watch him,” he continued. “If I look as a competitor, I don’t think on a worldwide basis there’s a competitor that’s any better than Juan Montoya. He’s won in everything he’s done. It’s cool for me in many respects to be competing against him for a championship, and it’s special to be in this position.
“But they’ve all won championships. They’ve won [Indianapolis] 500s. They’ve won a lot of stuff,” he continued. “So maybe they’ve got a little less pressure on them just because they understand how it goes. But frankly I’m just excited to be in this position to be competing with them.”
Outside of his own 2015 season, much has been made of whether or not, as a young American driver in an international sport, Graham is also helping IndyCar with his success. “I’m sure it helps,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. I feel a heavy responsibility as an individual to help grow IndyCar racing. I recognize that I was blessed to be born with a name that gives me a leg up when it comes to fan recognition. I feel like it’s my job to help it grow into the future.
“There’s a lot of ways that this can grow, but hopefully we can be a small part of that,” he continued, adding, “Do I think that that’s the end-all, be-all? No, I don’t. Frankly, Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves are more famous than any American out there currently, or Juan Montoya, for example, but can it help if Americans are doing well? Yes, it can.”
“I think the sport is on the rise, I really do,” Graham explained. “You look at ratings, good sponsorship interest – I’ll tell you, when we look at 2016 for sponsorship, doors are starting to open. People say, well, your results helped out. Well, that’s part of it. But the other part is people are starting to pay attention to IndyCar racing again, and that’s pretty special.
“We’ve got to do a better job of promoting the sport and getting people out there and getting people interested in it, and I think we can grow the thing. I do,” he continued. “You look at the response in the crowd at Mid-Ohio. I’d never seen it like that and I’ve been going there for my entire life. All signs point to a healthy future, and I’m looking forward to it.”
He’s also optimistic for a brighter outlook in his own IndyCar career, telling us that he’s learned some pretty vital lessons on his run to what might be the Astor Cup. “It’s taught me racing is fun again,” Graham reflected. “The last couple years have been pretty brutal for sure on many, many fronts, and I’ve really enjoyed myself this year. But I think it’s started to give me the confidence again that I feel like I can compete with these guys and that I belong here.
“Frankly, I think all season I’ve taken a much more relaxed approach to the way things have gone,” he continued, “and the other thing that’s really taught me, the most important thing it’s taught me, is the importance of a team, and the group of people that I have around me are incredible. Every single person in that shop is the reason for the success that we’ve had, and that’s the most important, most valuable lesson that I’ve learned.”
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