Photo: Chris Jones
Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 National Guard Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, participated in an IndyCar conference call to preview the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
He talked about the course for Race 1 this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., the tough time he’s had winning races the past few years, and a potential ride swap with NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., among other topics.
Q. Graham, the off-season is finally over. It's time to start the 2014 season. St. Pete has to be the best place for you to start a new relationship with a new sponsor in the National Guard.
RAHAL: St. Pete has always been good to me. It's obviously a track I like, getting my first win there, my first pole there. Always been good vibes around St. Pete for whatever reason.
I'm definitely excited to get back racing, number one, and number two, there at St. Pete. Of all of our races throughout the year, I wish we had more identical to St. Pete. Great place, great atmosphere.
Ready to go racing. Feel like I've been sitting around for the last 6 months. Nice that that is finally over and we can finally get on with it.
Q. Do you remember all the way back to 2008 and what it feels like to win an IndyCar race? Do you feel an urgency right now? What is your feeling going into this season about getting things turned upward toward the winning aspect of things?
RAHAL: Everybody feels a lot of pressure I would say as a team. Obviously, compared to last year, it wouldn't be hard to do a better job, but certainly to be more competitive and run up front.
I look at it, and obviously I've had chances to win. I think I finished second like 10 times or something. In my trophy room in my house it's all second-place trophies. I've had opportunity to win from time to time, unfortunately it didn't just come together. This year we need to focus on doing all those things.
I think what we really have to work on is we have to qualify better. We race very well, but when you're qualifying 14th, 15th on some of these street courses, it's hard to make up that gap.
I think we have a good opportunity this year. I feel with National Guard it helps take our team to a whole new level. Of course, with Bill Pappas, John Dick, all the guys we brought onboard, that's going to help a lot.
But there's always more work to be done. We're going to see this weekend where we stand. At this point I couldn't tell you. From our Sebring test, we were quickest there two of the three days we tested there, so I feel like we're in the hunt when it comes to the street course package. We're going to have to see what happens coming up this Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Weather might be a part of it, but we'll just have to see.
….We want to do the best that we can. But I can tell you something, there have been guys winning races last year that I know I can beat. I don't look at myself and say, “There's no way that I can win,” because there's guys that are winning that I've always been able to beat. There is some frustration in that.
But we as a team just have to do a better job. When an opportunity presents itself to us, we have to take the opportunity, can't be making mistakes. I think we'll do a better job of that this year for sure.
In St. Pete there will be … a lot of new faces on this team. We're all going to work well together. I'm sure we're going to see a better effort to come from that.
Q. You had the fire last night on the transporter. How much of a setback is that, or is it one?
RAHAL: Yeah, it is. I mean, I think all of our equipment was really clean. The guys did a great job this winter preparing everything top to bottom. The trailer looks great, the new National Guard wraps. It's all gone now.
I think the fire started up in the engineering lounge, so luckily I think the cars were fine. But it smoked everything out. We have to thank all the dry cleaners in Indianapolis because I think they're putting everybody else's stuff on hold today.
It's not ideal. Everybody knows that. I just got a text from one of my guys, “What do we have to do to change our luck?” It's literally like somebody doesn't like us. Hopefully this is the last bit of bad luck we'll have this year.
Q. What is the latest with the ride swap with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?
RAHAL: Well, I don't know. I threw that out there. It's something I really wanted to do. I was surprised he responded. Of course, I felt with the National Guard that it could potentially I would say happen. Media-wise, for sponsor exposure, I think it would be tremendous for them. But I also thought it would be something that would be fun to do.
There's been a lot of Cup guys jumping in an IndyCar. Kurt Busch is going to be doing it in the month of May. Jimmie Johnson and others have been always interested.
We have a tie here now. Let's see getting Earnhardt and a Rahal, I think the last time those two names were on the same track were the IROC days with my dad. It would be good to go back out there and see what we could do, have some fun.