IndyCar driver Spencer Pigot is interviewed by Detroit News reporters Angelique S. Chengelis and Gregg Krupa.
Graham Rahal can’t wait to get on Belle Isle to compete in the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader to put the disappointment from last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 behind him.
Rahal, 28, felt he had the car to win at Indy, but a flat tire late in the race put an end to his chance of reaching Victory Lane at the Brickyard and taking the big sip of milk in celebration that went along with it.
Rahal had his best season in the IndyCar series in 2015 when he finished fourth in points. He has won at least one race in each of the last two seasons and has run strong on Belle Isle’s 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course in past years.
“It’s a great challenge,” Rahal said of competing on the street course on Belle Isle. “Detroit, let’s just say it’s its own sort of animal. It certainly has its bumps and all of those things, but I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge, obviously grew up kind of going there watching my old man (three-time series champion and former Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal).
“It’s just a fun place to go back. I love the passion the Motor City has for racing. It’s just a great place to go race.”
Rahal’s father won on Belle Isle 25 years ago when Graham was a toddler. Now, Graham has run up front in contention for wins, finishing second in 2014, third in ’15 and fourth last year.
Rahal feels he has the equipment to win this time around, but hasn’t found the luck to finish the deal so far this season.
Rahal has a pair of top 10 finishes, placing 10th at Long Beach and sixth in the Indy Grand Prix before finishing 12th in the Indy 500 to sit 15th in the standings.
“We haven’t had the success, but just look at the Indy 500, I’m not kidding, with 60 laps to go I’d say we were the favorite to win that thing,” he said. “My plan was to work our way up to the top five by lap 100 and we did that exactly. Everything was going to plan. I had four or five guys at the banquet last night say to me, ‘Man you looked so good during the race compared to everyone else,’ and I genuinely had a car to win that race and then we had a flat tire, boom, now all of a sudden we’re a lap down.
“You look at Long Beach where we were running fifth with two laps to go and had a flat tire. Then, at Phoenix five guys crash in front of us and we get collected. I can’t tell you that our performance is down. We were the class of the field at the Indy Grand Prix, but we haven’t had the luck. Sometimes Lady Luck is on your side and sometimes she’s not.”
Rahal will have a teammate in Detroit with Oriol Servia also competing. Servia finished fifth on Belle Isle five years ago.
“We feel we can have success and win there,” said Rahal of the doubleheader, 70-lap races run Saturday and Sunday afternoon on Belle Isle. “That race is very unorthodox. It never goes the way you think it’s going to. Tire degradation is always high and the bumps, the doubleheader wears people out so it’s a very demanding event and I think that brings a lot of uncertainty, which is great.”
Rahal is thrilled to have United Rentals as a sponsor on his No. 15 Honda while driving for his father on the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan team.
“We have a great team and I’m excited United Rentals will be back on our car, on Oriol’s car which is cool, so we’ll have a teammate since Fifth Third Bank has really stepped up,” Rahal said. “Having Oriol as another point of knowledge and information to help us will be key.”
Rahal, now in his seventh year as a full-time driver in the series, is proud to have his Turns for Troops foundation in place, helping veterans get back on their feet.
“Turns for Troops is probably my favorite thing we’re doing right now,” Rahal said. “United Rental brought this on and for every lap we complete they donate $50 to charity as well as T-shirt sales with all $35 going to the Turns for Troops. In May alone we raised over $48,000 to help our veterans and I think we’ll reach our goal, which is to get over $100,000. Hopefully we can complete all 140 laps in Detroit.
“United Rentals donates the money and Soldiers Strong is the group that gets the money. The concept of the initiative is to get veterans back on their feet, vets that may need physical therapy for mobility training after getting injured or veterans that are paralyzed. It’s a great program and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
Detroit Grand Prix
When: Friday-Sunday, Belle Isle (IndyCar races Saturday and Sunday, 3:30 p.m.)
TV: Both races on ABC
2016 winners: Sebastien Bourdais and Will Power