INDIANAPOLIS — Heading into this weekend’s Time Trails to set the field for next Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network), a total of 784 humans have raced in the past 105 year history of this great event. Out of those 784 people, just 73 of them have actually tasted racing immortality by winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Among those 73, only 20 of them have won this race more than once.
That’s a 9% chance of winning basically and a 3% chance of doing so multiple times. That’s why Graham Rahal is irked at how each of the last 2 Indy 500’s have went for him. The second generation driver was in the hunt to not only win the 2020 race, but also the 2021 event too.
He knows that there’s not many opportunities to get this chance and when you do get them, you can’t afford to squander them away. This will be his 15th attempt at Indy glory.
“I take it for what it’s worth. I take my time to shine,” Rahal said on Friday morning. “Obviously we want to win here. We’ve been close before. But, the majority of the people that race in this race never win it. The vast majority.
“To me, to try to put myself and even the team in position to try to win it, we’ve been close. We learned from the past. 2020, the last stint, we put on a high stagger set of tires and I got really loose. Had we just done the same set of tires from the run before, I’d be confident to say that you’re probably looking at a guy that’s certainly we were better than Dixie at that stage on fuel as well as handling but we shot ourselves in the foot by trying to get too tricky on the last stint. And last year everybody knows what happened. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes and try to eliminate those going forward but this place is that place. It does what it wants to do.”
Rahal was right there in the final stint in 2020. Instead, his teammate Takuma Sato won with Rahal being in third. Last year, he had everyone covered. He had made one less pit stop than everyone else and when he exited pit lane on Lap 118, not only was he in the lead but it was by a considerable margin.
Unfortunately, his tire was never tightened and off Rahal went in the warm-up lane and back up he shot onto the track and into the Turn 2 SAFER barriers as a result. Another opportunity missed.
“It’s tough. You just don’t the know,” Rahal continued. “The way that we had the fuel mileage covered, that’s what the hardest. I mean how many more times are you going to get that chance. I mean we fooled everybody. We had everybody covered. Even the best of the best, we had covered. Now they know though. They’ve all watched last year. If they haven’t learned then that’s their problem. How many chances do you get to do that. That’s the trickiest part of this. How many opportunities do you get to where you come to Lap 120 for instance and Dixie isn’t playing a role. Guys like that that are normally ones to beat, they’re not there. That just doesn’t come that often.”
Now, Rahal is back and while he’s not been high up on the speed charts this past week, he’s not worried. He says that to be fast here is an opposite approach to what many say. A common quote is that if you’re comfortable in your car at Indy you’re not going fast enough. Rahal doesn’t agree with that assessment.
“That’s actually not true I think it’s the opposite,” he said. “I think my dad said it that we don’t need to sensationalize the whole thing. The fastest laps you drive here is the easiest laps to drive here. The laps that you’re hanging on are never your fastest laps. Where you’re too neutral or fighting the balance in the corner, they’re never the fastest laps. The laps in which you’re very precise and everything is smooth, that’s the fastest laps at the Speedway. Hanging it out, that works to a limit but I think we find with the current car that if we go too far, it just scrubs more and goes slower. I know the quote but I don’t know if necessary is 100% accurate.”
Rahal says his car last year was in that window and so far this week, this one is too. He also says that while he’s in the rare occurrence that the name on the front of the jersey is the same as the back, he’s all in to compete for his sponsors.
“I would say maybe a little bit but my pressure more is the name on the front which are the sponsors,” he said. “This is important to me. It’s important to me to carry on my family legacy. It’s important to me to make Dave (Letterman) proud and Mike (Lanigan). I’ve driven for Mike since before my dad. Before he merged with my dad. That’s important for me. We owe it to every one of these companies to put our best foot forward day in and day out and represent them in a great manner and that’s what’s important for me.”