When the name Graham Rahal comes up in conversation, his victory at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2011 is rarely the first thing that comes to mind. Best known for his exploits in the IndyCar Series with his father Bobby’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing outfit, Rahal enjoyed something of a breakout year in 2015, taking wins at Fontana and on home turf at Mid-Ohio in a title challenge that went down to the final round at Sonoma.
Hoping to continue his good form into 2016, 27-year-old Rahal returns to Daytona this weekend as the fourth driver in BMW Team RLL’s brand-new M6 GTLM, sharing the no. 100 car with full-season entrants John Edwards and Lucas Luhr, with Kuno Wittmer joining the roster for North American Endurance Cup events.
Racing.GT spoke to Rahal to get the lowdown on the improvements from the old Z4, the different mindset required for GT racing and the age old driver ratings debate…
Q. A lot of people may have forgotten or plain won’t know that you won Daytona outright for Chip Ganassi Racing with Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Joey Hand. Where does it rank in your career achievements?
A. Winning Daytona was a great achievement, perhaps in my top three moments ever behind my Mid-Ohio win and maybe my first IndyCar win in St. Petersburg. However it was probably the next year that I was most proud of. We had a massively ill-handling car, and I drove for nearly half of the race myself. That was a tough year as we were in the top three until an hour to go, only for the gearbox to fail, but it was fun!
Q. Although you’re best known for IndyCar, you’ve been racing sportscars since Sebring 2007 – does it still take some getting used to the different styles of racing?
A. Yes it is very different, because I’m used to pushing 100 percent of the time and always maximizing it for myself. In sportscars you are a puzzle piece and you have to work well together with the rest of the puzzle. I do enjoy that, but it is very different. Car-wise and driving-wise, the BMW, or any sportscar for that matter is very different than the IndyCar, but truthfully I love driving them all.
Q. RLL run teams in IndyCar and IMSA, but is there any crossover in terms of personnel and do they work in the same way?
A. There is very little – we try to keep the two teams separate. However, that does change when we run two cars at Indianapolis for the 500 or other events, then the IMSA team will come over and run that when they have downtime on the sportscar side. The engineers in IMSA all have IndyCar experience, as do all of the mechanics, so it’s normally a seamless transition.
Q. Even if you’re not in the same class, do the Indycar rivalries carry over to Daytona?
A. Not really. I would say maybe the guys that are in my class directly, but the rest no.
Q. For the last two years in a row, BMW has finished second in GTLM, so will the new car help change that?
A. I think the new car is an improvement in the sense it’s much more comfortable to drive, has a great power-band, and hopefully is a bit more aerodynamic on those long straights. The biggest key is staying out of trouble and not having any mechanical errors – that was our strength before and we need to do that again.
Q. And finally, what do you make of the driver ratings situation? Do you think that as an Indycar race winner, you should be gold rated?
A. I don’t see why an IndyCar race winner isn’t [platinum]. I truly feel that to win an IndyCar race is one of the most difficult things to do in racing; just ask guys like Rubens Barrichello, it’s not easy. IndyCar is full of top tier drivers and teams, and the competition is far greater than that of F1, but then again, I don’t make the rules, I just abide by them!