INDIANAPOLIS — “Make no mistake, this is Stef’s ride, and I’m happy to fill in.” Graham Rahal said on Tuesday morning as he was announced to be replacing the injured Stefan Wilson in Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
“Sometimes weird things happen in this world. We’re fortunate to be here.”
Following his incident during Monday’s practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Katherine Legge, Wilson was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital for further tests. It was then that it was disclosed that Wilson suffered a fracture of the 12th thoracic vertebrae and will stay overnight at the hospital for further tests and observation.
Based on this type of injury, Wilson was not cleared to race.
So, some may wonder now, how did this work out to get Rahal?
First off, Rahal and Wilson have a great connection and friendship already. Rahal and Justin Wilson, Stef’s brother, were teammates at Newman Haas Racing. That blossomed into a relationship with Stef too and they’ve remained close.
Both drivers are also pretty similar in stature too, so not many changes in the car may need to be made. Thirdly, Rahal and DRR have a past history together too.
Graham drove for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at Iowa Speedway in 2010 to ninth place. Rahal’s partners.
The main holdup was Rahal is a Honda driver for a Honda team. DRR is a Chevrolet team. That didn’t pose to be too much of a holdup. Honda obliged to allow this to happen and Rahal was easily chosen to be the 33rd driver in.
“I must say, Dennis mentioned Chevy, and equally so Honda, for allowing me to do this,” Rahal noted on Tuesday morning. “I think I told Dennis when he called me, I said, I’m not really sure I want to waste your time. I’ve spent my entire career in a Honda. I’ve never driven anything other than that. I’m not really sure that we’ll be able to get the releases in place to be able to make this happen.
“They really came together, two manufacturers, to allow this to take place, to allow us to go race on Sunday, and hopefully get this car moving towards the front and have a really, really strong run.
“Because again, while I was very appreciative, I knew the hurdles were going to be massive. This wasn’t just as easy as saying yes.
“You know, I think we both, last night we were sitting there at about 10:30 and going, I can’t believe this actually happened, that both Honda and Chevy allowed this to happen. So we’re very, very appreciative of that.
“Frankly, that would be a better question for Dennis and Dad to answer than me because I knew that the challenges were far greater than me, and I needed to step aside because contractually I don’t know what all is said between RLL and Honda, RLL and our partners. But I know that this guy here to my right is a high-class individual, and I know he and dad spoke and worked things out right away.
“I’m surprised, but it was certainly exciting for me to hear late last night that we were going to be able to make this happen.”
Another big thing is Rahal has sponsorship he can bring. Hunter-Reay’s car has no funding. By Cusick and their sponsors already on the 24 car and Rahal bringing over what he has, it helps alleviate the financial impact as well.
With a substitution, the car will have to drop to 33rd (Outside of Row 11) at the start but can still race. Rahal notes that he’ll be back there with his original teammates as Katherine Legge starts 30th, Christian Lundgaard in 31st and Jack Harvey in 32nd. He’s 33rd.
The other attractive aspect to have Rahal in the car is the fact that they don’t need to do a special practice session now either.
According to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES rulebook, rule 4.3.3, it states:
“Provided INDYCAR approves the substitution, and the change takes place prior to the parade and pace laps, the original Driver entered for the Race may be substituted by:
“Oval Events – Another approved Driver who has already participated in practice, or a special session for the current Event.”
If it’s another driver that hasn’t raced on an oval since last year’s Indy 500, then they’d have to find time to do a refresher before Carb Day.
The refresher consists of two phases.
Here’s the rule:
“If a Driver has not participated in an oval Event in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES since the prior year’s
Indianapolis 500® Mile Race, INDYCAR will determine if any additional testing shall be required. In addition to Car control, placement and interaction with other Cars on-Track to the satisfaction of INDYCAR, the refresher test consists of the 30 laps that make up the second and third phases of the ROP. No such Driver will be eligible for a Qualifications attempt prior to completing the refresher test.
“Phase 2 requires a driver to complete 15 more laps at speeds between 210-215 mph. The final stage, Phase 3, requires a driver to complete 15 laps at speeds over 215 mph.”
They no longer has to do that.
Now, what can Rahal do in this ride? I think he can still have an impact here.
“I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t think we could win,” Rahal said.
It’s a wild scenario that’s similar to 1987. Al Unser Sr. didn’t have a ride that year. Danny Ongais was concussed in a practice crash. Penske called Unser back to see if he could fill in.
The thing is, they didn’t have a car. Their primary was crashed. So, Penske brought the back-up car over from a hotel lobby in Reading, Pennsylvania that’s purpose was to be a show car.
Unser became the second four-time winner that year.
That came a year after Bobby Rahal won the 1986 Indy 500.
Also, there’s this. In 1992 Scott Goodyear and his Walker Racing teammate of Mike Groff swapped rides. Goodyear was the full-time driver and in the 1992 chassis. Groff was a part-timer and in the 1991 chassis. They swapped cars in order to take advantage of a favorable qualifying day.
It didn’t work.
Groff made the race qualifying in 26th, Goodyear was bumped. Goodyear got his car back and replaced Groff for that year’s race. He had to start last.
Wilson qualified the No. 24 Chevrolet that Rahal will now drive in 25th. Groff qualified the car Goodyear took over in 26th.
Goodyear came from last to finish second in one of the closest finishes in Indy 500 history. Does Rahal have it in him?
Indy chooses it’s winners…