Category archive: Graham Rahal
What to make of the surprising news that Graham Rahal will contest two upcoming Izod IndyCar Series races for Sarah Fisher Racing?
My first reaction is: At least Rahal is in a car and will be able to bank some points and buy some time until he can hopefully put together a program for the rest of the season.
My second thought: It truly shows how bad the economic conditions are in Indy car racing when the most talented, articulate and marketable future American star has to resort to a last-minute, two-race deal with a developing part-time team.
My third point: What a brilliant move by Sarah Fisher as a team owner! Fisher the driver was intending to contest the St. Petersburg and Alabama races, making her first road racing starts in the IndyCar Series. And with all due respect, she wasn't going to be a frontrunner.
By stepping aside in favor of Rahal, Fisher will turn the spotlight onto her team and her sponsor, Dollar General stores. The limited program with Rahal (which includes a test day at Barber Motorsports Park) will also greatly benefit Fisher, her team driver Jay Howard and SFR's road course development program in general by giving them feedback from an established IndyCar star.
It's the kind of smart thinking that demonstrates no matter what happens in the rest of Fisher's career as a driver, she has the savvy to be a long-term player in the business of racing.
It's also a win-win situation for the IndyCar Series, because it teams Rahal, one of the sport's future stars with a pedigreed name, with Fisher -- who was the IRL's most popular driver until another female competitor who shall remain nameless came along.
The two-race collaboration is unlikely to lead to a season-long deal between Fisher and Rahal, but it certainly works well for both of them in the short term. Fisher's team will be more competitive with Rahal than it would if she was driving; Rahal is not going to drive the SFR car to victory in St. Petersburg or Alabama, but he has the chance to rack up points with a couple of solid top-10 finishes.
"Sarah has clearly done an impressive job building Sarah Fisher Racing and I really thank her, the team and Dollar General for this opportunity to compete in St. Pete and at Barber Motorsports Park," Rahal said in a statement. "I can't wait to get behind the wheel of the Dollar General No. 67 car and hopefully contribute to the success of SFR."
If Rahal can run in the top 10 for Fisher's small and growing team, he will only enhance his already stellar reputation. And he will leave the Roger Penskes and Chip Ganassis of the world no excuse to not hire him for 2011 and beyond -- if not for the rest of 2010.
If the soul of stock car racing is in the Southeast, then the heart of Indy car racing is the Midwest.
Maybe that's part of why the aptly named Iowa Corn 250 Presented by Pioneer has caught on so quickly in the Hawkeye State. Modern Indy cars are about as different as a race car can be compared to the brutal sprint cars that compete half an hour away in the famous annual Knoxville Nationals. But that hasn't stopped local fans from filling Iowa Speedway to its capacity of 40,000 to see those funny rear-engine machines for the last couple of years, a trend expected to continue for Sunday's 250-lap contest (1 p.m. ET, ABC).
An audience of 40,000 certainly looks a lot better on television and creates a better vibe in person when every seat in the house is occupied, rather then when a 75,000-seat venue is half-full. And the Iowa fans go above and beyond to ensure that the IndyCar community receives a warm welcome.
The racing at Iowa Speedway was considerably better in 2008 than it was for the inaugural event a year earlier, when there was no passing to speak of and enough crashes on restarts to classify as comical.
Modifications to the aerodynamic rules and tires created more of a second groove last year, and it will be interesting to see whether the track, with an additional year of seasoning, will finally develop into a true two-groove track.
That was the intention when Rusty Wallace & Co. designed and built Iowa Speedway. It was created with the desire to create a turbocharged version of Richmond International Raceway, supersized from 3/4 to 7/8 of a mile.
The intentions were good, but in the first couple of years, Iowa Speedway was more reminiscent of the short-lived Chicago Motor Speedway, the 1-mile oval that Chip Gananssi built on the grounds of Sportsman's Park that was intended to be an upgrade on the venerable Milwaukee Mile.
CART raced at CMS for three years, and the shows were pretty dreadful, mainly because of the unsuitable low-downforce aero package that was mandated. The IndyCars, with their huge wings and considerably less horsepower, don't have that problem at Iowa; in fact, the issue is exactly the opposite, because the cars have so much grip that the drivers are easily able to negotiate the 0.875-mile bullring flat out.
A big factor in what produces more competitive racing at Milwaukee is that the drivers actually have to drive the cars, lifting for Turns 1 and 3 and setting the car up. At Iowa, and to a lesser extent at Richmond, where the IndyCars will race under the lights on June 27, the problem is that the drivers are flat on the throttle most -- if not all -- of the time.
The Milwaukee race last month produced five lead changes between four drivers, and the result was in question until Scott Dixon took the lead in traffic with 25 laps to go and drove away to a relatively uncontested victory. It was also the most exciting IndyCar oval race of the season so far after surprisingly processional affairs at Kansas, Indianapolis and Texas.
Target Chip Ganasi Racing's Dixon is a former pole winner at Iowa, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him score his third win of the season this weekend. Team Penske's Helio Castroneves is having a charmed season and will also be a front-runner, as will their teammates, Dario Franchitti (TCGR) and Ryan Briscoe (Penske). Dan Wheldon, who switched from Ganassi to Panther Racing this year, is the defending champion; Franchitti won the inaugural race driving for Andretti Green Racing.
It will be interesting to watch the Andretti Green Racing camp this week, to see whether Tony Kanaan picks up the pace in general, whether Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti are getting along, and whether Hideki Mutoh can match the career-best second-place finish he achieved at Iowa last year.
I have a hunch that Graham Rahal of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will also run strongly, and it can only be a matter of time before this talented 20-year-old is mentioned in the same breath as the Penske and Ganassi drivers as a favorite every weekend. The kid is that good.