At 20 years of age, Graham Rahal could be finishing up his sophomore year of college and debating whether spring break should take him to Cancun, Fort Lauderdale or South Padre Island. Instead, he is entering his third season with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, now as the anchor of a team that won two races in the IndyCar Series last year.
Rahal, who has been team-mates with Sebastien Bourdais and Justin Wilson the last two seasons, will step up to the red-and-yellow #02 McDonald's Racing Team entry previously campaigned by the frontrunning pair, having earned the position with a fifth overall as a rookie in the final year of Champ Car, and a strong showing in the unified IndyCar Series that included a record-setting victory in St Petersburg.
“I think the expectations that are put in place aren't necessarily because of my role on the team, but more because of the fact that I want to go out there and win races and be successful,” said Rahal, who became the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history when he won on his IndyCar Series debut in 2008.
“Coming from a situation in Champ Car and transitioning here last year, it's all building blocks and leadership skills and a lot of learning that's taken place. Basically, every step in my career has been a learning year for me.
“This season, I think the entire team comes in with a lot more confidence, knowing that we ought to have a much better shot at being successful and winning races. I want to go out there and win races and prove that I deserve the role that I've taken in this team now. I feel like I've done a good job of building the team around me over the last couple of years and now it will hopefully all show through.”
Rahal's team-mate in 2009 will be 27-year old Robert Doornbos, a rookie in the IndyCar Series but a driver who has experience in both Formula One and Champ Car.
“When I made the move from Formula One to Champ Car in 2007, I had no knowledge of circuits, tyres, drivers, engine, whatever of that series, and I had five podiums out of the first six races, so that was a motivation boost,” the Dutchman noted.
“I think my attitude is the same for IndyCar. The team contacted me because they know what I can do, and I'm here to do the best job I can. Of course, I have respect for the ovals, there's still a steep learning curve, but nothing to be worried about.”
Despite not having seen eye-to-eye with the American's team-mate in Champ Car, Doornbos is happy to be partnered with Rahal at NHLR.