DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the record, Graham Rahal’s collection of exotic sports cars includes an Acura NSX. Fittingly, it’s chassis No. 15.
That’s apropos as Rahal prepares to help reintroduce the NSX to sports-car racing this weekend when the Rolex 24 opens the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season at Daytona International Speedway. Rahal and his dad, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, have been instrumental in the development of the production NSX and the racing NSX, so Graham feels honored to be behind the wheel.
“This is a personal project for me,” Rahal said. “For how early in the development that it is, it has great potential. It’s just still very new to all of us.”
Rahal will team with Andy Lally, Mark Wilkins and Katherine Legge in the No. 93 Michael Shank Racing NSX in the GT Daytona class. The team also will field Ryan Hunter-Reay, Jeff Segal, Tom Dyer and Oswaldo Negri Jr. in the No. 86 NSX.
Rahal, who is entering his 11th season in Indy car racing, will be competing in his ninth Rolex 24. He teamed with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Joey Hand for the overall win in the 24-hour endurance race with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2011.
This time, he’ll be competing in the fourth-fastest of the four IMSA classes, something entirely different than the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“For me, the NSX has been a learning curve,” Rahal said. “You have to drive this car so differently from what you drive an Indy car, as far as aggressiveness and how you attack. It’s been tough, honestly, to adapt.”
In test sessions earlier this month at Daytona, the NSX wasn’t fastest in the GT Daytona class, but engineers were pleased with the development and potential of the new car.
“It seemed like the drivers were pretty happy with it,” said Allen Miller, race team leader at Honda Performance Development, which oversees Honda’s INDYCAR program and the NSX project. “We weren’t at the top of the time sheets, but as a race car I think it’s looking pretty good now. It’s just a matter of us bringing it along now and making it quicker.”
The reintroduction of the NSX program to international sports-car racing holds special standing for Rahal, whose dad has been close to the NSX project since the first generation of the production vehicle debuted in 1990. The current generation of the cars are produced at a facility in Marysville, Ohio, not far from the Rahals’ home base in the Columbus suburbs.
“It’s a pretty cool parallel for us to have both been through the various stages of development of the car,” Graham said.
But even with his reputation for buying and selling collectible cars, Rahal doesn’t think he’ll part with his white NSX with a red interior and a special chassis number, a nod to the digits on the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda/Dallara that Rahal drives in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“That one is a lifer,” he said. “That one will probably never leave the garage.”
Not an uncommon response from people who admire the car from afar -- and those who get the pleasure of driving its race-ready cousin.
“People have been waiting almost a decade for this car to come out,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s great to finally be on track and having been a part of the development process has been rewarding and fun. Hopefully we can have a good first race for it. It certainly looks the part and every session on track we’ve been getting closer to making it a car that can contend for the race win. One step at a time.”
The initial reaction to the NSX’s sleek lines and muscular stance is one of awe. Rahal, for one, can’t get enough of it.
“Every time I see it, I’m astonished by how good-looking it is,” Rahal said. “Having been a part of it since the production car development and now seeing it turn into a GTD car and being able to drive it, I’m still blown away by how it looks. It’s mean. It’s aggressive, yet the lines are fairly simple, which is awesome. A lot of race cars these days aren’t simple anymore.”
Among the other drivers with IndyCar ties entered in the 55th running of the Rolex 24 are Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Townsend Bell and Spencer Pigot. Qualifying is scheduled for Thursday, with the race set to begin Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
After Wednesday’s IndyCar test session at Sebring International Raceway, Rahal drove to Daytona to prepare for the Rolex weekend.
“This is probably one of the greatest challenges of my driving career,” Rahal said with a laugh. “I’m going from driving an Indy car one day to a sports car the next day.”
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