Paddock Buzz: Rahal Eager for Home Cooking at Mid-Ohio

  • Racing News

It wouldn’t be a trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course without a feeling of coming home for Graham Rahal, who was born and raised an hour south of the track in the Columbus suburb of New Albany, Ohio.

Rahal and his family have long had a strong emotional bond with this facility that opened in 1962. Mike Rahal took his son, Bobby, to a race in that first season.

Bobby Rahal’s longtime friend and backer, Jim Trueman, the founder of Red Roof Inns, bought what was essentially a club track in 1982, turning it into a spectator showplace, adding permanent grandstands, garages, a scoring tower and the media center, among other upgrades. Bobby won INDYCAR SERIES races in 1986 and 1987, finishing on the podium in eight of his 16 starts.

Graham has produced his own racing history at the track. In 2005 at the age of 16, he became the youngest driver to claim the SCCA National Formula Atlantic Championship, winning by 43 seconds. This is his 18th INDYCAR SERIES race at the track, and he won in 2015, and has six top-five finishes and 11 top-10 finishes.

Last year, Rahal lost the pole by four-hundredths of a second to Colton Herta. A slow fuel probe plug-in on his first pit stop and trouble getting an inside rear tire changed on the second stop relegated him to a seventh-place finish in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry.

With the series introducing hybrid technology for this race, Rahal is expecting a different type of event.

“It’s going to make for an interesting qualifying session, in particular,” he said. “To understand where to use it, how to use it and how much to use it. I think there are a lot of question marks in that regard, so we’ll see what happens there.

“I think it will make quite a big difference in the race. I’m not sure about the strategy on the fuel side yet, but obviously from the use of the hybrid it will be very intriguing to try to understand and figure out.”

Rahal is driving the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this weekend. He posted the sixth-quickest lap in the first practice of the weekend Friday, although that session was interrupted by rain and drivers turned a limited number of laps.

This is the 41st INDYCAR SERIES race at Mid-Ohio. The Rahals have driven in 33 of them, and a Rahal-owned car has competed in six others. The only series race without a Rahal presence was in 1980, an inaugural event won by Johnny Rutherford.

Palou: Season Good So Far

Alex Palou (No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) brings a 23-point lead over Team Penske’s Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet) in pursuit of his second consecutive series championship and third in four years. He is satisfied but not content.

“It’s never a ‘10’ in racing,” Palou said. “There are so many things that can improve. I’m super happy; I wouldn’t change much.

“Obviously, leading the points, that’s what you want. How we got here? Who cares, but at least we’ve been winning races (two), and we’ve been battling up front.”

Palou still hasn’t won an oval race in his time in the series – he has 11 wins overall -- and six of the remaining nine events this season are on such tracks. He doesn’t think he has to win an oval race to win the championship.

“I don’t think I have to, but I want to, and I should,” he said.

While Palou hasn’t won on an oval, he has often been in contention to do so. He has been one of the drivers to beat in the last three Indianapolis 500s presented by Gainbridge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he has twice started on the front row at Texas Motor Speedway – he won the pole in 2021 – and has finished third at Texas and Iowa Speedway in 2023.

The next oval event is the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend doubleheader July 13-14 at Iowa Speedway.

Sowery Latest INDYCAR Newcomer

Toby Sowery is making his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut this weekend, becoming the eighth driver of the year to do so. The others: Colin Braun, Kyle Larson, Luca Ghiotto, Kyffin Simpson, Christian Rasmussen, Theo Pourchaire and Nolan Siegel.

Sowery, an Englishman who turned 28 last weekend, is a veteran of three INDY NXT by Firestone seasons. He finished third in the championship in 2019 behind Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay. He was a top-three finisher in 11 of his 25 series races driving for Team Pelfrey, Juncos Racing and HMD Motorsports, winning a race at Portland International Raceway in 2019. He also has a pair of second-place finishes in class this season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, driving alongside Braun and George Kurtz at CrowdStrike Racing.

Sowery’s first NTT INDYCAR SERIES opportunity is coming with Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 51 Global Karting League/Vuzix Honda.

Odds and Ends

  • Drivers are experiencing Mid-Ohio’s new surface this weekend following a recent repaving. Rahal is excited about it. “There’s no downside to a repaved track,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing – smooth, fast, normally good grip.”
  • This is the third track on the series schedule that has been fully repaved over the past two years. Road America and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca received new surfaces ahead of INDYCAR’s 2023 visits. Iowa Speedway has been partially repaved.
  • The new hybrid system can be fully charged or discharged by the driver in approximately 4.5 seconds. It also can be charged from a 12-volt source on pit lane or by the engine itself under idle.
  • The new hybrid unit adds 105 pounds to each car.
  • To promote the use of hybrid technology, each car is carrying a sticker on its attenuator, and it will be there for each race for the rest of the season.
  • Three cars will start Sunday’s race six positions lower than they qualify due to penalties for unapproved engine changes following the June 27 team test at Iowa Speedway. Those cars are driven by Marcus Armstrong (No. 11 Root Insurance Chip Ganassi Racing Honda), Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Felix Rosenqvist (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing).
  • Mid-Ohio offers a unique fan experience, particularly with campers. Thursday evening, a Fourth of July parade was held with tent and motorhome campers driving around the circuit in golf carts decorated in red, white and blue. Honda-backed NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are scheduled to visit campsites after Saturday’s on-track activities.
  • Cleveland Browns offensive lineman and former Ohio State Buckeye Dawand Jones will serve as the grand marshal of Sunday’s race and will give the command to start engines.
  • PNC is highlighting its Women in Motorsports program this weekend with Erin Davis, one of three women interning with Chip Ganassi Racing this weekend. The native of Avon Lake, Ohio, is entering her junior year at Ohio State.
  • Root Insurance is celebrating its home race with a new livery on Armstrong’s car, and it donated its suite Friday to The American Legion’s 12th District that represents Ohio. More than 20 veterans spent the day at the track.