The pressure is on hometown boy Graham Rahal as he rolls back into the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Sunday's Honda Indy 200. Brandishing a helmet adorned in nearby Ohio State University's football colors, the MAXIM-sponsored driver is gunning for the Verizon Indycar Series points lead at the track where he grew up.
The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver of the number 15 Steak ‘n Shake Dallara-Honda lies second in championship points after a spectacular season that's seen Rahal overcome onstacles that might have disheartened a lesser driver. After 13 of 16 races, Rahal is poised to overhaul points leader Juan Pablo Montoya before the season ends at Sonoma Raceway in a month.
Early in the season, Rahal struggled with the performance of the new-for-2015 aerodynamic bodywork and wings, which are unique for the Honda and Chevrolet-powered competitors. At first, Rahal had to settle for being the fastest Honda, but with hard work and development, the team gained the ability to contend for race wins.
A runner-up finish at Barber Motorsports Park in April confirmed Rahal’s capacity to win races, and his first victory of the season came in June on the oval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Between the two, Rahal finished fifth at the Indianapolis 500, further demonstrating the team’s competitiveness.
Since then, Rahal has clawed his way forward in the points standings, with another oval track fourth place at Iowa Speedway outside Des Moines. Calling that his “hardest race ever,” Rahal scored solid points despite suffering a flat tire and then having the car get stuck in sixth gear.
But now Rahal is back on the familiar turf of the circuit that was the home base of his father’s racing team for many years.
“I am thrilled to be going home,” Rahal exclaimed. “It’s obviously always a big race and weekend for me. Now with everything that has gone on with the championship I think that friends and fans are definitely excited and that’s been a lot of fun for me to see people support us in the championship and obviously at my home race.”
Rahal acknowledged the track’s pivotal role in his decision to race for a living, saying “Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is a big part of why I am now racing Indy cars. I went there as a kid, camped out, ran around causing trouble and just had a great time. It helped create a bond for me with racing in a family atmosphere and I’m thrilled to be back.”
This is the fourth road course race for the IndyCar series in 2015, and Rahal finished second on two of the previous three, suggesting that he and the team will be strong again this weekend on the 2.3 miles and 13 turns of rolling hills at Mid-Ohio.
To advance toward his goal of winning the championship, Rahal needs to finish ahead of current points leader Montoya, while also beating third-place Scott Dixon. Dixon, significantly, has won the Mid-Ohio race five times in eight tries, so he figures to pose a major threat to Rahal’s plans.
“We got to have this never-say-die attitude,” said Rahal. “If I have a race-winning car, we have to win. We can’t finish second or third. If we have a 10th-place car, we have to find a way to finish fifth. There is no doubt this team can perform and win a championship.”