Graham Rahal is used to being on the move.
Whether it’s driving an Indy car at more than 200 mph, attending wife Courtney Force’s NHRA drag races or entertaining and wooing Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s current or potential sponsors across the nation, the Verizon IndyCar Series always seems to be on the go.
This week was another prime example, but for different reasons. On Tuesday, Rahal was in Charlotte, North Carolina, as he was named one of Team Penske’s added drivers for endurance races with its new Acura sports car team. Two days later, he was on the opposite side of the United States, welcoming Portland International Raceway back to the scene as part of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
“I think Portland is going to be a great addition for us,” said Rahal, who will continue to drive the No. 15 Honda full time for the Verizon IndyCar Series team co-owned by his father, Bobby, in addition to the sports car venture that consists of the Rolex 24 At Daytona in January and the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in March.
“I'm already getting a heck of a lot of buzz on social media about (the Portland race), Rahal added. “When I go up to Courtney's races in Seattle, I get questions about when we're coming back (to the Pacific Northwest). To all those fans, we're back, we're here now. I'm excited to see what they can do with it.”
Rahal has a surprisingly strong history at Portland’s 1.967-mile permanent road course that belies his 28 years. His father won the Indy car race at the track in 1987, though that was nearly two years before Graham was born. Graham earned his first major karting win at PIR and followed that in 2005 with a win in Star Mazda – what is now the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, part of the Mazda Road to Indy stepladder.
Graham won the pole for the 2006 Formula Atlantic race at Portland, but early contact with Simon Pagenaud – the Team Penske driver ironically named Tuesday as one of Rahal’s teammates for the endurance sports car races – knocked both out of contention and opened the door for one James Hinchcliffe to get the win. A year later, in his rookie Indy car season, Graham finished ninth in the Champ Car World Series event for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. That was the last Indy car race at PIR, ending a streak of 24 consecutive years.
Thursday’s announcement that Portland is part of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series’ 17-race schedule has ignited new excitement in the area. Though he hadn’t been back to Portland since 2007, Rahal anticipates great things in next year’s race on Labor Day weekend.
“A lot of great moments have come at this track,” he said. “It's got a lot of high-speed corners, a lot of flowing sections. With the new 2018 Indy car, I fully anticipate it will provide some very, very, very close racing and exciting racing for all the fans.”
Following Thursday’s announcement in Portland, Rahal got his first look at the circuit in more than a decade, taking laps in a Honda street car in the rain. He liked what he saw of the revised layout.
“A couple corners are different, (Turns) 5-6-7,” Rahal told RACER.com. “It's a lot quicker out of Turn 5 and Turn 6 is now a left-hander and it's much wider. But Turn 7 is really interesting because it's much wider, like seven cars wide, and tighter, too, so there's going to be a lot of moves made – or attempted – back there and I think it's going to be an exciting place to watch."
Rahal said that Portland fits in nicely with the rest of the 17-race schedule, serving as the penultimate race leading into the finale at Sonoma Raceway. The diversity of circuits is well represented, with five street-course races, six on permanent road courses, three on short ovals and three on superspeedways.
“I think it's great,” Rahal said. “It's a great mixture of all of them, even really across the board between three very different types of styles, of venues.
“I think it's a great schedule. As Mark (Miles, Hulman & Company CEO) said, it would be great if it can continue on like this. We're seeing a lot of continuity with our venues and dates, things like that. It's nice because, even from a team perspective, it's pretty consistent. We know where we're going to be at what time of year, which is great.”
On for the sports car front, Rahal and Pagenaud will moonlight with Penske’s Acura program at Daytona and Sebring while retaining their respective full-time jobs in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Rahal’s long ties with Honda and Acura made it a natural move for him.
Graham made sure to let his dad know of the decision – if only the night before the announcement – that he would be driving for Roger Penske. Bobby Rahal’s team runs a BMW team that competes in a different IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship class than the Prototype division in which the Team Penske Acuras will run.
“I will say that my dad has always been a huge supporter of mine,” Graham said. “I think it was my dad's dream to drive for Roger. He never had the opportunity to do so. I know for him there's a lot of pride that's associated with that.
“It wasn't much of a conversation. I know Dad's probably equally as excited. I think he's looking forward to getting down there. Frankly, we won't compete against them as the category they're in is different than the Prototypes, but I'm excited for this opportunity and what's ahead of us.”
Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dane Cameron and Ricky Taylor will be the primary Team Penske Acura drivers, with Rahal and Pagenaud joining them for the endurance events.