Graham Rahal joins RLL for 2013
15 November 2012
Graham Rahal will be joining the family business for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season, after confirming that he is leaving Chip Ganassi Racing to team up with his father Bobby at Rahal Letterman Lanigan next year.
"It's awfully exciting for me, it's a great opportunity to be a part of this team," said the 23-year-old. "For me, it's a bit of a fresh outlook, really. As I look towards next year and beyond, this is a great group and a great organisation here, and everybody is aimed to achieve the same goal, which is to win races and championships. I think together we can do so."
"I think he's one of the best drivers out there," said his father, a former Indianapolis 500 in his day. "If we take away the father-son aspect, I think any team would want him driving their car.
"I'm super pleased with Graham, because I think that together we can achieve a lot of great things both on and off the track, so we're really thrilled to have him driving the car," he added. "I'm confident we can create the environment that he needs to excel, and that's our commitment to him and I think we're going to have a lot of success as a result."
Both Rahals had been wary of teaming up too early in Graham's career, with Graham needing to establish himself in the sport before becoming too firmly associated with the family business.
“I have been asked when I was going to drive for my dad's team my whole life,” admitted Graham. "Dad brought it up by saying 'You just need to come drive for me' ... That's when we sat down and said, 'Hey, this really does make the most sense.'"
“As I said all along, I felt it was better for him to get his experience with different teams and I think it's paid off for him," said Bobby Rahal. "I think he's a much better driver because of it. It has matured him because he was not dealing with family. He was dealing with professionals and people who had expectations."
"We thought now was the right time most importantly because I've raced for other teams for a long time, I've been a part of different organisations and I've built my own name in the sport," agreed Graham. "But I needed to take it to the next level and Dad's team has that uncanny ability to do that and that's what I'm looking forward to."
"We're very optimistic that great things will happen for Graham and for our team," added team co-owner Mike Lanigan. "First of all, we had him in '06 in Atlantics, he won. We had him in '08 in the IRL. He won his first race in St. Petersburg.
"I've known him since he was 17 years old," Lanigan added. "I've known Bobby a long time. And I know the quality team Rahal Letterman Lanigan puts out, and I think it will be very successful."
Graham has spent the last two seasons at Ganassi Racing, and while that's brought him seven top-five finishes in 32 races (including two second-place finishes) and undoubtedly developed and seasoned him as a race car driver, it's clear that he had grown increasingly frustrated playing second fiddle to the team's top drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.
Graham admitted that his new three-year deal at RLL would "erase all questions in my mind about knowing where I stand in terms of the pecking order" compared with his experiences in 2011 and 2012.
"It's even down to little strategy things, things we've done in the past," Graham explained of some of the tensions that had been building at Ganassi. "I genuinely feel I should have won the Kentucky race in 2011 but for some reason we were the only car in the entire field that didn't put enough fuel in. You look at Baltimore last year. I didn't even need to pit and yet I was pitted and that took me from second back to 11th. [At RLL] I don't have to worry about those things. I don't have to worry about strategy.
"Everyone on the team is not going to put me in a position where I can't succeed, particularly my dad," he pointed out. "He is going to do everything he can to give me a 100 per cent effort and that gives me a lot of confidence. Dad and I work well together and, quite frankly, I've always relied on him heavily no matter what team I have been on."
After three years away from IndyCar, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing only returned to full season competition in 2012 when it fielded former F1 driver Takuma Sato, who came close to pipping Dario Franchitti for victory in the 2012 Indy 500. Bobby Rahal said that he was still hopeful that the team would add a second car to the team's line-up in 2013, and that Sato was still in the running for a seat with RLL of that happened.
"We'd love to have Takuma back," he said. "[But] there are other guys out there that are available, guys like Ryan Briscoe or Justin Wilson who I have a great deal of respect for both of those guys. We're working hard. We're not there yet, but I'm hoping by year's end we'll have something put to bed."
Graham's season will be backed by primary sponsor TBC Retail Group and by associate sponsor Valvoline. He will have his first outing in the team's #15 car on November 27 at Barber MotorSports Park and will also take part in a test at Sebring International on December 12. He will inherit Sato's race engineer Gerry Hughes, with his father Bobby acting as race strategist.
"This is probably the most excited I have been to join any team because I see the potential behind what my dad and the rest of the team have been able to accomplish over the last year with Takuma," said Graham. "Dad's team helped resurrect Ryan Hunter-Reay's career and Buddy Rice's and Michel Jourdain's," he pointed out, adding: "He gave Danica her shot and I'm really stoked about being here. It's a fresh outlook for me.”
"Knowing the development and other things that the team will now have the time to do to prepare for the season makes me more than thrilled to be here," he concluded.