All Verizon IndyCar Series drivers face pressure, but Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal have just a little bit more. Coming from two of racing’s biggest families, fans expect them to be the next superstars. Both Marco and Graham addressed that issue at IndyCar’s recent media day that took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week.
“The thing is, you grow up around it. You’re part of it,” Rahal explained to media members including IndyCar Examiner. “People say, how did you realize that your dad was someone special? Well, I mean, truthfully, I don’t know that you ever really appreciated all that he’s accomplished until you’re trying to do it yourself.
“As a kid, you would go to restaurants, people would ask for autographs. You didn’t think anything of it. There was nothing unusual about that,” he recalled. “All of a sudden you get put into this position [as a driver] and you have good years, you have bad years. The pressures that go along with it. You realize Dad did this, he achieved that, won Indy, Daytona, Sebring. You know how hard that is to accomplish. You don’t appreciate
that until you’re there trying to do it yourself.
“For me, racing, my whole life has been it. It still is. There was never anything unusual about it. Being a Rahal was what I was born into. People ask that a lot. But I don’t know different than that.”
Agreed Andretti, “I think his answer hit it on the head, as far as appreciating what they’ve done. Until you try it for yourself…It’s so hard to win an IndyCar race nowadays. It always has been. But I think I put a lot of pressure on myself. I don’t care what my last name is, I want to succeed. It’s killing me not having a win.
“It doesn’t matter if my last name was Smith or Andretti, I’d want to win. Otherwise you don’t compete,” he continued. “There’s added pressure, but you want to succeed anyway. That’s the easiest way to put it.”
What’s his outlook going into the 2016 season as manufacturer Honda, who backs Andretti Autosport, continues to tinker with its aero kits and try to get back into the fray? “We have an improvement over last year,” Andretti said. “Is it enough? I don’t know. We hope so. Obviously the competition has been working, as well. We don’t know until we’re on track with them really.
“I’m a little worried about the speedway stuff, the politics there. I have to voice my opinion on that,” he continued. “I hope the field isn’t divided there. We’re not allowed to change a lot [with the aero kits] on the speedway side. We should be closer on the short ovals, road and streets, I would hope. Last year we were trying to hang in there. It’s frustrating sort of fighting for fifth on a given week. You put a perfect weekend together, you’re third.
“These guys were able to pull out a couple of wins. We wereright there for a couple of them, but never really broke through. Afew podiums, but we definitely need the win column,” he admitted. “For me it’s frustrating because, I mean, that’s what put [his teammate Ryan] Hunter-Reay ahead of me in points. I have a better finishing average than him, but it doesn’t matter. We’ll keep working and try to get in the win category.”
Rahal got that monkey off his back with a pair of wins at Fontana and again at Mid-Ohio on his way to his best career finish ever, winding up fourth in the league championship standings. Looking back at the year that finally got him over the hump, he told the assembled group, “Fontana was fun. That was a cool day. But to me I think Fontana was more just of a relief to finally get that whole second win. I was so sick of answering questions about it.
“For so many years, I don’t know of my 20 podiums or whatever I’ve had, I finished second 15 times. I was always close but never seemingly could get that second win. Fontana relieved that pressure,” he continued.
“But Mid-Ohio to me was the greatest – I’m in front of media, so I have to be careful with [his wife] Courtney,” Rahal joked, “but was the greatest single day of my life. For me to do the Buckeye helmet, Honda being right there, being home. It was the first time I think ever in my career that my whole family was at the track together, my siblings, Mom and Dad and everybody. To have a day like that was a dream come true. I don’t know that you could ever repeat that again.
“I still watch it and enjoy the moment. It feels just as good as it did on that day. But you don’t get experiences like that very often,” he added. “So for me, had I been able to accomplish everything, someday when all this is over, if [I] had won everything except that race, I think I would have always hated it, that feeling.”
As the crop of drivers under 30 continues to increase in IndyCar, hopefully we’ll see Andretti and Rahal continue to build on their careers and push forward the wave of young talent that will sustain the league for years to come. They’ll certainly have plenty of opportunities for future success when the season begins next month.
For more on the Verizon IndyCar Series, visit the league’s website.