Graham Rahal aims to finally stamp the family name on a victory at the Long Beach Grand Prix


Graham Rahal wasn’t even born when his father, Bobby, lined up to compete in the first IndyCar iteration of the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1984.

By the time Bobby retired in 1998, he had won the Indy Car World Series Championship three times, the Indianapolis 500 and 24 Champ Car races. He also landed in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, but never in victory lane at Long Beach.

Graham Rahal has done no better. He had a promising start when he took to the wheel, finishing eighth in his rookie year of 2007, but when it comes to finishing ...


“Long Beach is a classic and the Rahals have finished second there five times now, and we have to find a way to break that curse this weekend,” he said Thursday as he prepared for Sunday’s race. “As a driver, everybody enjoys going to an event like Long Beach.

“Obviously, it started as F1 race back in the 1970s, but it really is known for IndyCar racing. It’s an iconic event and any time you bring up the Grand Prix people know exactly what you’re talking about, which is awesome. It really does speak volumes to what that event is here in Southern California.”

Eleven years, 160-plus races and six wins into his IndyCar career, the 29-year-old is among the sport’s elite drivers, finishing fourth, fifth and six, respectively, in the last three IndyCar seasons.

There is something very different, however, about racing through the streets of Long Beach.

“I think Long Beach is a perfect case study of why IndyCar racing works so well in a city,” said Rahal, who placed ninth last week on the one-mile ISM Raceway in Phoenix. “Long Beach is the perfect track to highlight what takes to be an IndyCar driver.

“What I mean by that is that track highlights really high speeds, and on it you’ll be making sure you hit every braking mark perfectly; you’ll have to make sure every downshift goes smoothly; you’ll be making sure to hit all of your marks because it’s a concrete jungle out there. There are also bumps everywhere. When you have a mix of the high speeds and the low speeds and everything else, it showcases the performance of what it takes between man and machine to be successful. To me, it’s one of the greatest tests that you have in all of the IndyCar series.”

This year’s machine is also different.

Graham Rahal is looking for his first Long Beach Grand Prix victory.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press )

Manufactured by Dallara Automobili, Italy, the new low-slung Dallara IR-12 draws styling cues from the Champ Car era. Powered by a 2.2-liter, V-6 twin-turbocharged engine that puts out approximately 700 horsepower, the 1,590-pound cars are white-knuckle fast.

“What’s crazy about the new car is the way I accelerates,” said Rahal, 29. “It will get to maximum velocity way quicker than last year’s car. The thing accelerates like mad. I mean even in sixth gear it keeps pulling.”

How fast is it?

“The old car we raced up until this season would hit speeds of 177 to 178 miles per hour on the front straight here at Long Beach,” he said. “The new car, I think, will be 10 to 15 miles an hour quicker than that, and we’ll be approaching 200 miles an hour down East Shoreline Drive.”

Through two 2018 series races, the competition also has been fast and furious. At Phoenix there were 279 passes and 12 lead changes, and seven race teams were featured in the top 10.

“It’s the most competitive season of racing that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Rahal, who is married to NHRA Funny Car driver Courtney Force. “If you miss the set-up at all on race day, you could be talking 10 lost places. It used to be that if you missed it a little bit, well, okay, you’ll be a position or two behind.

“Now, it’s just a whole different animal. It is unbelievable to me how competitive it has gotten. It’s a great challenge and it just makes everybody push harder, and keep their heads down and focus a little bit more.”

The challenge for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing outfit is to finally reach that winner’s circle.

“It’s a huge event and all of us want to win Long Beach,” Rahal said. “I can guarantee you that on a list of races you want to win, the Indy 500 is always going to lead off, but on everybody’s list, Long Beach is going to be a very close second.

“It takes, literally, a mistake-free, error-free day to win. It also takes a little Lady Luck to make it all happen seamlessly. You have that pressure at this event, and you also have a couple of hundred thousand people there. Yes, it is a very big event and I’d just love to win it.”