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INDYCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
July 28, 2015
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar media teleconference. We're pleased to be joined today by Verizon IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Graham, welcome to today's call.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: You're in the midst of your best season to date. Won the race at Fontana. You don't have to answer any questions about winning again. You're career best second in the points, 42 behind Juan Pablo Montoya. With the way the season plays out, Mid-Ohio, Pocono, and the double points race at Sonoma, do you think you can catch Juan and win the championship for RLLR?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I think our Steak 'n Shake Honda team is in great shape right now. Coming into Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, for instance, places we were very strong last year, areas I think we can definitely compete with the Penske and Ganassi boys, which is ultimately what we're trying to do here, is beat those guys. You know, I think I feel pretty good about it.
Pocono is a place that would have concerned me before. But as we look at our year thus far, we made one little slip-up, didn't run enough downforce at Texas. Being a single-car team kind of hurt us there. But everywhere else, we've been fifth at Indy, obviously first, third, fourth in the last three. I feel good about Pocono, too.
However, Juan won there last year. We know we're going to have to be on top of our game to go back and beat him again there.
THE MODERATOR: The next Verizon IndyCar Series race is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. You grew up going there watching your dad race as a boy. You'll be wearing some Buckeye gear there, as well. What would it mean to you to win there this year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It would be awesome. Other than the Indy 500, the one race I would love to win is my home race. I'm very proud to be from Ohio. I'm a huge Buckeye fan.
To me, that track, the connection I have with that venue, is really a big part of why I am doing what I am and what I love. Being around Mid-Ohio as a kid, camping out, ironically enough, going to Steak 'N Shake all those nights right down in Mansfield. It's a lot of the memories that created my bond with IndyCar racing, one of the big loves I've had with it.
To go back there, to compete there, is very, very cool. Being in this position, in a position to win a championship, is something I truly never dreamt of. Hard to believe we're in the battle now.
I'm looking forward to hopefully having great crowd support both at the race and also for our Steak 'n Shake appearance Thursday night. It should be a lot of fun.
THE MODERATOR: You've mentioned Steak 'n Shake a couple times. Obviously the No. 15 car will be the Steak 'n Shake Honda this weekend. They've partnered up for you and your foundation for a cool promotion beginning this weekend.
GRAHAM RAHAL: We had a great amount of success in Indianapolis with the Graham Rahal Shake over the month of May. So we've decided, with their support, to carry that on, have the Graham Rahal Shake through the end of August. It's 65 restaurants throughout Ohio.
It's going to ultimately benefit the Graham Rahal Foundation and Fight FMA, a partner of ours, but really through Nationwide Children's Hospital, which is really cool, one of the leading children's hospitals in the country, a place that my family has had huge ties to over the years with the Bobby and Debi Rahal Bone Marrow Transport Wing. There's a lot of ties that go back. Hopefully everybody will go back and spend the three or four bucks it costs to get a shake and have it ultimately go to a good cause.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up to questions for Graham Rahal.
Q. It's often said having fun at work, surrounding yourself with good people, kind of gets good results. What's working better with you and the team this year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think everything. As you just said, and I bring this up all the time, whether it be IndyCar racing, the family car dealerships, it's people. It's people that make things go round.
I'm not saying we haven't been with a great group of people before, but I think the way the team has come together and unified is what has made it successful.
There's not a single person that doesn't get along with each other on the team. There is no weak link. On the engineering side of things, when you have Eddie, Martin and Mike, these three guys are all in charge of their own respective areas, but they're always in sync.
We never have any arguing, concerns or any issues. That's a change from the past. I think that's really a huge, huge part of the success that we've had this season.
I mean, I can't tell you how much fun I've had this year, and it's not just fun because we've been doing well, it's fun because of the people that we're around. It's been pretty cool.
Q. Your competitive spirit which comes out even when you're in a go-kart seems to stand out a little bit more this year. Do you agree or...
GRAHAM RAHAL: I said in an interview yesterday, my job, my focus this year, like Iowa, I think it was the perfect example. We got to have this never-say-die attitude. If I have a race-winning car, we have to win. We can't finish second or third. If we have a 10th-place car, we have to find a way to finish fifth.
In Iowa I think we had a car that was definitely capable of winning. But with all the issues, flat tires, mechanical errors, everything else we had going on, to finish fourth was more than a victory.
So that's what we had to do this season. I think we've done a much better job than ever before from that aspect of things. I hope we can keep it going, I really do. I mean, there's no doubt this team can perform and win a championship. We got to keep fighting hard.
Q. You talked a little bit in the opening about Pocono. Obviously your focus is on Mid-Ohio this week, but can you talk a little bit about racing at Pocono, what you feel you have to do there to be successful, narrow the gap on the deficit with Juan Pablo.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, look, I love Pocono. It's a cool place, special place. There's been a Rahal in Victory Lane, as there has been in most places, with dad. It's a great track to go run at. Also with our family dealerships going in Western PA, it ties well in there, as well.
We're going to have to put our best foot forward there, for sure. That's a long race, one that Penske has pretty well dominated. Last year it was obvious. Hasn't really been a place that we've been the best at.
But I think with our setups, the things that we found that were wrong before, the things we've improved on, I feel pretty good about going there, frankly, I really do. I think we're going to have a great shot at it. Just going to have to keep working hard and putting yourself in the best place possible to gain points.
As you look at Pocono, you'd be a fool to think that Juan's not going to be dominant or that Juan is not going to be right at the front. But at this point our job isn't only to catch Juan but to keep ourselves in the top two or three in points. We're going to do our best that we can to compete with all the other guys as well as just Juan.
Q. Is it a case of you can't worry about what he does, you just have to worry about what you guys need to do to be successful? If misfortune happens for him, that's lucky for you? Can you not worry about what he does?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, we worry about what he does, for sure. I'll tell you, at Iowa, when I saw him go out, I knew that was my opportunity. That's a big part of why I had the fire within to try to get ourselves, get that car back up into the top five. I knew that that was my chance to gain a lot of points.
So we're always focused on what he does. But I think at this point, Juan has a heck of a lot more to lose than I do. I'm going to keep pushing, keep fighting, taking chances, driving the same way I have all year.
I think Juan has to take more of a conservative role. I mean, it's his championship to lose. 42 points is a lot of points. At this point I think he has to be more conservative, just get to the end. We're more in an attack mode. We have nothing to lose and we're going to try to catch him as quick as we can.
Q. Graham, you made a comment after the last race about Honda needs to get behind you. Can you elaborate on that? Have you had conversations with the manufacturer? Has anything changed as you head to the last three races of the season?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, on that, I'm just going to leave that to what it was. I think our team's done an excellent job this year for Honda. We put ourselves in a great position to succeed all year.
I think we can make them proud, and we'll continue to do so. We'll just leave that where it's at. I know we can be, but I want to be their top team. We have been all year. Like I said, I think we can win 'em a championship, and nobody else can. Hopefully we can do it.
Q. Do you regret saying that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, no. But, I mean, in the heat of the moment you certainly say stuff. These things happen, as you know. I mean, you guys know, I'm a pretty emotional guy. I try to always, always give it my all and do my best. On that night we wanted to beat Andretti, that's for sure.
Q. Graham, you are the dominant Honda team and you have been able to do much more with the aero packages than anyone else has been able to. To whom or to what do you attribute that? How much of it is you? How much of it is that great team of engineers you spoke of earlier?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's a little bit of everything, as you know. I think this year, we just put a decent car on the track everywhere we've gone. I think we've been strong pretty much everywhere and given ourselves a chance for success. I feel like the engineering staff has been a huge part of getting this team back to where it needs to be and can be.
On my end of things, what I found early on is that the Honda aero kit typically is pretty edgy in the sense that the rear-end is pretty hard to get stable or secure. But I just kind of figured that I'm just going to have to drive it, that I probably wasn't going to get it exactly where I want it to be handling-wise, but that's what we were going to face. It was time to make the most of it. I feel we've done a decent job of that this year.
The guys at HPD have done a decent job with the engines, there's no doubt about that. My Honda engineer, Joe, he's been tremendous at helping us on that end, too. People have been pretty hard on him. I got to say they've been keeping their heads down and working pretty hard there.
Q. It is a little bit more difficult to get that aero kit to work, it seems, especially when you're driving behind a Chevy. How do you work that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: You make the most of it. I mean, that's really all we can do. On road courses and stuff, and I hope this weekend's different, but we certainly haven't had their ultimate pace that they have.
But I think when it comes to race day, we've proven that the Honda can be pretty good over the long run, keep the rear tire underneath it. That's really played into our hands.
But like I said, I mean, that's kind of not really our biggest concern right now. Our concern is putting no excuses out there. We got to go beat these guys. If you look at the last several road course races, we've been pretty strong on the permanent road courses. That's what we have left. We got to just make sure the positives we had at the Grand Prix of Indy, NOLA, Barber, those sorts of things, make that a little bit better, go attack these guys. That's exactly what we're going to try to do here.
Q. It seems like you have a lot of factors working against you in this championship run, including the fact that everyone just mentioned you're driving a Honda, which didn't look like it would find its way into championship contention this year, and the fact you're a small team surrounded by these large four-car teams. How have you been able to use those factors to your advantage or work with them as you're trying to capture this championship?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, like I said, Honda has had a never-say-die attitude. They've continued to work extremely hard and help us. They've done an excellent job with the engine and everything else, where that's gone. Then really our team, our people.
Yeah, those are teams, big teams. Penske is the standard. As far as I see it, Penske is the best team in motorsports and that's who we strive to be like. I think they've got tremendous people, but so do we. That's what we're trying to do.
The biggest advantage those other teams have is data. Every lap that gets turned throughout a practice, qualifying, a race, they're getting four times the amount of data for every single lap that they do. Without a doubt, that's a huge advantage.
This is where we made a mistake at Texas. We took for granted the amount of downforce we thought we needed and we just didn't put enough on. We didn't have the data to know otherwise, versus the teams that got it right were multi-car teams.
When I look at it, our job is to do the best we possibly can, give it the best guess at all times. We've done a tremendous job with that all year. If we continue to do a tremendous job, things are going to be perfectly fine.
I told all the guys all along, Don't change your mentalities, don't change your attitudes, don't change the way you're doing anything, just keep going the way you have and we know we can compete with these guys.
Q. I was wondering, has your dad given you any advice on how to deal with things or is he just happy to be in the background?
GRAHAM RAHAL: To be honest with you, my dad's been on vacation the last two weeks. I haven't even heard from him. Hasn't been at the last three races. Maybe that's the way he wants it to be.
But definitely haven't heard much from him. We haven't talked much about it. Frankly, that's kind of fine. We allow it to go the way that we have. You know, things have been pretty good lately.
I would love to have him here, love to see him be a bigger part of this and everything else. But it hasn't played out this way thus far. He hasn't said much.
I know he trusts in us, trusts in myself, this team. Maybe he's happy just kind of letting it go that way.
Q. At least you know he's in the background if you need any help from him.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Trust me, he is always there. If I need him, he'll be the first guy there to respond, to answer, to help. Thus far, we just haven't really needed him very much.
Like I said, we won in Fontana without him. We had a good one in Milwaukee without him, a good one in Iowa. He kind of just said to me, I don't know, maybe I should just not show up the rest of the time. If this is the way things are going to go, maybe you're best on your own.
If I needed something, I can guarantee he'll be there. He'll be there at Mid-Ohio. He's excited to go home and race in front of the hometown crowd and everything. I'm sure I'll be hearing a little more from him soon. But let him enjoy his last couple days of vacation.
Q. Graham, so much of your success this year has come despite having always to make up ground from difficult qualifying efforts. With Mid-Ohio and Sonoma being pretty difficult places to pass, how important is it to nail qualify at those events and do well on the red tires?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It will be big. Mid-Ohio in particular, it will be extremely important for us to qualify well. But we haven't really had too many issues this year.
I don't want to start any further back than the top six to give ourselves a realistic chance of victory. At the same time we've put ourselves in some pretty bad spots before, like the Grand Prix of Indy, and worked our way through it.
I think one of the positives of the Honda is the engine, the fuel efficiency is tremendous. That's really helped us in races. I think that can play out very well for us if you look at the last two. We almost won Sonoma last year. Came a lap short. If we kind of follow that plan again, I think we'll be just fine, I really do.
Now, Mid-Ohio always tends to turn into a fuel race. If that's the case, again, I feel very positive about the Honda over the Chevy. Just have to see how this all plays out.
But, look, I'd be lying to you if I said I was fine qualifying 10th or 12th like we've done. It's been a frustration, a disappointment. It definitely makes our lives a little bit harder. We definitely want to put ourselves as far forward as we can.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions for Graham, we will thank him for his time today and wish him the best of luck this weekend at Mid-Ohio.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: That will wrap-up today's IndyCar media teleconference. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports