Graham Rahal looks to continue solid track record in Detroit

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Graham Rahal and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears were in town Tuesday afternoon at the Detroit Historical Museum to take a look at the 30th Detroit Grand Prix Exhibit while promoting the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader which will be run on Belle Isle’s street course May 31-June 2.

Graham Rahal celebrates his victory at Race No. 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2017.

Rahal, who drives the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank/United Rentals Honda for the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing Team, is the lone driver to win both ends of the doubleheader, in 2017 on Belle Isle.

Rahal, 30, is currently seventh in points with a pair of fourth-place finishes. He will start Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 from the 17th spot, the middle of Row 6, between a pair of former Indy 500 winners in Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

Dixon won one of the races on Belle Isle last year with Ryan Hunter-Reay also having a great weekend with a win and a second-place finish.

“Dad and I take a lot of pride to come here and this is probably the only place in my entire career that I can say I have more wins than my Dad,” said Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who is also his car owner. “We love coming here. It’s special. I think I have five or six podiums (top-three finishes) here which is the most I’ve had anywhere, so this is a place I really enjoy coming to and hopefully we can get a win this weekend, which would be awesome, and then carry the momentum over and get a couple here.”

This is the 30th Detroit Grand Prix, which started on the streets of Detroit before moving to Belle Isle in 1992 where Bobby Rahal won the first race on the island.

Graham Rahal won his IndyCar series debut at St. Petersburg at age 19 in 2008. Colton Herta won at age 18 at Austin this season. Herta, the son of Warren native Bryan Herta, who is a two-time Indy 500 car owner, will start the Indy 500 from the middle of Row 2.

“He’s done an amazing job and he’s in a good situation,” Rahal said of Colton Herta. “A lot of people don’t know, but that (Herta’s No. 88 Honda) is an Andretti car and obviously Andretti cars over the last few years have won a lot between Alex (Rossi) and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and even (Zach) Veach has been fast from time to time. Andretti cars will be very strong at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway this weekend.

“He’s done an excellent job, but his last three races have been DNFs, last place finishes, three in a row so he’s going through that kind of rookie sort of explosion and then the slump, and that’s going to happen. It happened to me, and when you’re that age, it’s hard to control that, the excitement and the eagerness to go out there and push hard, it’s hard to ignore. He’s done a great job and the future is bright in the sport for sure.”

Mears is one of three four-time Indy 500 winners, joining the legendary A.J. Foyt and Al Unser.

Mears won his first Indy 500 40 years ago, then won again in 1984, ’88 and '91, after finishing a close second to Gordon Johncock in 1982.

This will mark the 50th year at Indy for Roger Penske. His drivers own the most poles (18) and wins (17) in the Indy 500, including Mark Donohue’s win in 1972 and Will Power’s victory last year.

Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will start Sunday’s race from the pole with Power starting sixth, on the outside of Row 2, and Josef Newgarden eighth, in the middle of Row 3.

Mears owns more poles (six) and wins from the pole (three) than any other driver in Indy 500 history. He now holds the role of team advisor for Team Penske and will be spotter for three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who will start 12th or the outside of Row 4.

“I’ll be spotting for Helio, but I’ve never had a spotter so I don’t know what it’s like to have a spotter and to be honest with you I don’t think I’d want a spotter in my ear because I can’t do two things at once, listen and drive,” Mears said.

“For him (Castroneves), he’s a bit of an emotional driver like me and he doesn’t need a lot of help, but I’m there mainly for him as a backup, as a safety. There are times when somebody makes a last-instant dive going into the corner, and the last time you glanced into the mirror he was on this side and now he’s on the other side, that’s what I’m there for, to give him a little bit of a heads up. But, other than that it’s just going to be the best seat in the house up in Turn 3, just a great show from up there.”

While the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader is just around the corner, Rahal’s focus is on the Indy 500. Firestone has put a new tire in place for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

“It came out with a new tire so that helped the car rotate through the corner. Understeer was a major problem in the race last year and it’s still going to be a problem this year, but I think it is reduced,” Rahal said. “Yesterday (Monday) in practice it was pretty much 33 cars running nose-to-tail for two hours. It was pretty intense. I expect a lot of that (Sunday).

“In our position, we’re decent, Takuma (teammate Sato), myself, our cars are decently quick. It’s so close. I don’t know if you guys realize, but from first to last this year — and obviously you guys have all seen the stories of Fernando (two-time Formula One champion Alonso) not making it — but from first to last it’s 2.6 mph over four laps so it’s the closest field in history.

“It’s always a good show, but what you need, you need to be good, you need to make no mistakes, you have to have great pit stops and of course at Indy you do need to have some luck. It’s a book and every year it writes its own story, the next chapter and you just hope that you do all the things you need to do correctly and that that year is your story, so we’ll see.”