Graham Rahal is more excited than normal to be heading “home” this weekend. No, it’s not because of a dismal weekend in Gateway, although that has a hand in it. Rahal, a Columbus native, has been vastly improved at his home track lately and needing a win.
After just one top 10 in his first six Mid-Ohio starts, with four of which being 16th or worse, Rahal has since rebounded.
He’s not finished outside of the top 10 since (6 races). He won in 2015 in fact.
But, this year is the year he thinks. He can not only win again, he thinks he can bid for a top five finish in the championship later on too. That’s what makes this such a large race for him. He went from fourth in the standings after a third place finish in the Indy 500 to sixth following a rough weekend in Gateway the last time out.
“St. Louis really, really killed us for sure,” Rahal said on Thursday. “We were lucky, a lot of the guys we compete with didn’t have a great St. Louis either. If you look at Simon, a couple of the other guys, even Colton. There’s still a lot of guys within reach. I feel like we can go out there and have a really strong weekend I think and close some of that gap.”
So, for him to catch up, he needs a solid outing with two chances this weekend in Mid-Ohio.
“Big race for me,” Rahal said. “I love going home. We’ve had great success. I think we found some great stuff the last time we raced on road courses. I expect our team to be extremely good.
“I’m excited to go home. We’re a contender this year. I think a lot of people have seen us improve. We’ve come a long way.”
He also says that this is the part of the year where he will make a little more risks too.
“For me at this stage in the season, too, I’m willing to take a little bit more risk to get a win,” Rahal continued. “It’s been a few years, since 2017 for me. I feel like we’ve been extremely consistent and strong as far as our performance the last couple years in the 15 car. Bounces haven’t quite gone our way. Willing to take a little risk to try and make that happen.”
Rahal also notes that its going to be very physical there this weekend but that not new.
“Everybody expects that it’s going to be a tough weekend for all of us, but I feel good about my physical condition,” Rahal continued. “I am excited to continue on down this path and get back to racing. Clearly having a doubleheader at home is always going to be fun for me. I’m looking forward to that challenge.
“We have been competitive pretty much everywhere with the exception of the short ovals, where we struggled. I’m pleased with what I’ve seen on road courses. I think the guys have done an amazing job, but we’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep pushing to try to improve a little bit further. We were competitive at the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis and at Road America. We didn’t maximize that, but I feel like there is a lot of positive thoughts and beliefs to carry forward. We know that we can be right in the hunt there, so I fully anticipate us doing that. From a strategy standpoint, 75 laps is probably going to be a two-stop race, no problem. It is going to be still physically tiring.
“The pit stops are going to be critical, obviously, as will not putting a wheel wrong on track. Typically, the weather is hot and steamy this time of year, which does breed more and more mistakes. I think INDYCAR is doing a great job to get these races in. From our standpoint, we’ve got to do the best that we can for all of our partners. We’re going to run the United Rentals car on Saturday and switch overnight to the Fifth Third Bank car and hope we can get a good result in both races for them. We’ve got some opportunities ahead of us with five races on tracks we should be good at. We feel like we’ve been better than a lot of the guys ahead of us or around us in points, and we’re going to try to make this our best season yet.”
With natural road courses being a strong suit of the team this year, watch out.