BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Graham Rahal is looking to finish the fight as the Verizon IndyCar Series readies for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
The 28-year-old Ohio native is coming off back-to-back runner-up finishes in his previous two trips to the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course.
With a flair for the dramatic, Rahal grabbed victory by a slim 0.008 of a second over James Hinchcliffe at Texas Motor Speedway last August, as well as his memorable 2015 win at Auto Club Speedway that featured a record 80 lead changes in the 500-mile race.
Rahal has never found himself on the winning end of late pushes at Barber, but that won’t deter him from continuing his same aggressive style.
“We're going to do the same thing we always do,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “(I’m) hoping to qualify up front like we did last year and just wear them down. That's what we do around here – physical track, make the other guys tired, save our tires and go chase them.”
The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series race winner laments last year’s mistake, when he clipped the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth while trying to hold off Simon Pagenaud for the race lead. Pagenaud went on to win; Rahal guided his wounded car home a distant second.
“Last year, I genuinely think we would have won the race, but I thought Hawksworth is going one way and I'm looking in my mirrors at (Pagenaud), and he goes from the left side of the track across to the right, and it just caught me out,” said Rahal.
“So my mistake, and it cost us a lot, but I think we definitely had the car to beat on the long run. Not the short-term speed. I think there's a lot of guys that have that quick out-of-the-box speed, but for whatever reason, over the entire race, we seem to wear them down. I'd like to say we're going to get out front and just run away with this thing, but I don't he see that as possible.
“We're just going to have to have good pit stops. Got a good clear (entry) here into our pit box, so hopefully we can roll a good amount of speed in, guys do a good job on the stops. Just got to put it all together.”
Rahal also knows the predicament he faces as the only driver on a single-car team. Unlike multi-car teams, he has no teammates to lean on or share data with to help find the perfect balance for the car.
“We're a single-car team,” said Rahal. “I've said this time and time again, but it's hurting us, without a doubt, this year. I think what you're seeing is a lot of the other teams have caught up to us, some have certainly passed us. But as a single-car team, it's even more rewarding when you can find yourself in the (Firestone) Fast Six and you can put yourself in that position to be dueling it out with Ganassi, Penske, Andretti, everybody else. You know, it's just unbelievably competitive.”
One of the fastest cars at the Alabama circuit the last two years, a win would be big as Rahal, currently 15th in the championship, aims to get his season on track and build momentum heading into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil next month.
“Trust me, I want to win here more than anybody because I have been close,” Rahal said. “I think I probably have more top-fives here in my career or over however many races we've done here than anywhere else that I've probably ever gone.
“I'd love to get one here. It would mean a lot to me, and just to get the monkey off of our back for the season and to start the next string of races really good. As I look towards Indy and stuff, it would just be a nice way to start the month of May, which is pretty much here, so it would be nice to get out of here with a good result.”
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama practice resumes at noon ET today (streaming live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). Verizon P1 Award qualifying begins at 4:15 p.m., with NBCSN coverage starting at 4:30.
Sunday’s 90-lap race – the eighth Verizon IndyCar Series event at the track airs and third race of the 2017 season – airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. ET.
Watch Rahal take some laps in Friday's practice at Barber Motorsports Park via the visor cam here:
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.