Graham Rahal will be back on Belle Isle’s 2.3-mile street course to compete in this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, an event he swept in 2017.
Belle Isle will be a welcome site for Rahal after he left Indianapolis in a sour mood, knowing he had a fast car in his No. 15 United Rentals Honda in Sunday’s Indy 500. But he ended up a disappointing 27th after a late crash while battling for seventh place.
Rahal was running eighth when he went inside Sebastien Bourdais with 23 laps remaining in the 200-lap race. Bourdais slid down, putting Rahal into the grass, and then Bourdais’ back left tire touched Rahal’s right front tire, resulting in a crash that sent Bourdais into the Turn 3 wall.
Rahal was visibly – and verbally – upset when his car hit the outside wall. He got out of his car and got into Bourdais’ face to express his frustration.
“Blocks like that can end up with somebody killed,” said Rahal after exiting the infield medical center.
Rahal felt he had a car capable of a top-five finish – or better – which would have given him a great points day during the biggest stretch of the season. Double points are awarded at the Indy 500 with another big points weekend on Belle Isle with the doubleheader.
Now, the 30-year-old Rahal will enter Belle Isle 12th in points.
Two-time Detroit Grand Prix winner Graham Rahal and four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears preview the Indy 500 and the doubleheader races on Belle Isle. The Detroit News
Rahal’s last series win was the Belle Isle sweep in 2017. He has a pair of podium finishes since – a third at Mid-Ohio in 2017 and a runnerup in the 2018 season opener at St. Petersburg. He has fourth-place finishes at Austin and Long Beach this season.
IndyCar put in a new aero kit last year, which was far different than in 2017, when Rahal finished sixth in points. He finished eighth in points last year, taking 23rd in Race 1 on Belle Isle and fifth in Race 2.
“Maybe from last year to this year it’s not a big difference, just more that we know them better now because we’ve driven the cars for a little while and have worked with this aero kit for a little bit longer,” Rahal said.
“From when I won in ’17 it’s a lot different. Downforce levels on the road course is down considerably, but top speeds down the straightaways are up considerably, so it’s quite different. This is a more demanding car to drive now, to get all the details right it magnifies every weakness, and when you don’t have downforce it showcases that.
“Last year, we were very strong here, as well. We were on our way to a second or third when I messed up in Race 1. In Race 2 we bounced back with a top five. I’m excited to be back and get going here for sure.”
Rahal is optimistic about his chances for a win on Belle Isle, saying he has had strong runs, as has his Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan teammate Takuma Sato, who finished third in the Indy 500. Sato won at Alabama this season and sits fourth in the points.
“We’ve had a strong start to the year,” Rahal said. “The last street course we finished fourth (Long Beach), and I feel we should be better here than we were last year, and last year we were strong.”
Rahal is married to Courtney Force, who retired as a FunnyCar driver after last year’s NHRA season.
“It’s been a blessing for us to be able to be together,” Rahal said. “I’m sure she misses that competitive fire from not being behind the wheel, but we’ve had a lot of fun to just be able to spend time together. We’ve been married four years but didn’t really know what being together all the time is like, so it’s been really, really fun.”
Rahal is also a big Ohio State football fan and believes new coach Ryan Day will be able to continue the Buckeyes’ dominance over Michigan.
“I think they will be just as good if not better this year than they were,” Rahal said. “Last year was a bit of a whirlwind year it seemed with Urban’s (Meyer) health and his suspension. But if you look at last year probably the best three games they played – I get it was easy opponents – but the first three games with Ryan Day were probably the best three, the most consistent three that they played top to bottom all year.”
Under Day the Buckeyes beat Oregon State 77-31, Rutgers 52-3 and TCU 40-28.
“I’ve met Ryan Day,” Rahal said. “I have a lot of respect for him and certainly the talent has not dropped off. If anything, they’ve reloaded with more talent and they might be even better.”
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is 0-4 against Ohio State.
“I love Jim, love his passion, love his fire, but the pressure is on him,” Rahal said. “You lose to Ohio State again, I don’t know how you can justify the price tag. I don’t know that there’s that much that has changed. Losing Rashan Gary and Devin Bush, those are big holes to fill, and I’m sure that getting (former Michigan defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison to our side will only add fuel to Jim’s fire.”
Detroit Grand Prix highlights
7:30 a.m. – Gates open
7:45 a.m. – Trans Am Series Practice 1
8:30 a.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Practice 1
11 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Practice 1
Noon – Trans Am Series Practice 2
12:50 p.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Practice 2
3 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Practice 2
4:30 p.m. – Trans Am Series Race 1 qualifying
5:15 p.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying
8 a.m. – Gates open
9:15 a.m. – Trans Am Series Race 1
10:45 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 1 qualifying
11:45 a.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship open grid fan walk (pit lane)
12:30 p.m. – IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Race
12:45 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series drivers autograph session (Firestone Fan Village within Meijer Fan Zone)
3:30 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 1
6 p.m. – Frankie Ballard concert (Entertainment Stage within Meijer Fan Zone)
8 a.m. – Gates open
10 a.m. – Trans Am Series drivers autograph session (Heritage Exhibit Tent)
10:45 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 2 qualifying
11:45 a.m. – Trans Am Series Race 2
1 p.m. – Stone Temple Pilots concert (Entertainment Stage within Meijer Fan Zone)
2 p.m. – 30th Detroit Grand Prix celebration activities
3:30 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series Race 2