By ROB HAMILTON
In the midst of his best season to date as an IndyCar driver, Graham Rahal is looking forward to the series’ upcoming race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The 26-year-old Ohio native was back in the Buckeye state for a couple days in late June to promote the event, which takes place from July 31 to Aug. 2. Being able to spend some time in his home state was fun for the driver, who got to meet various Ohio State football players during his visit.
“It’s awesome; I wish I could spend more time,” he said Tuesday. “As a diehard Buckeye fan, it was cool to meet them. It’s been a great day.”
In the 2015 IndyCar season, Rahal was fifth in the points race after the first nine events for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team with five top-10 finishes. In the past two seasons for that team, he finished 18th and 19th.
“The team is just a lot more cohesive,” he said in explaining his improvement. “It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve put ourselves in good positions. In the last couple years, it seemed like anything went wrong that could have.”
Rahal is hoping that improvement continues at Mid-Ohio. He placed fifth there last year for his best finish at the Morrow County race track since IndyCar returned there in 2010.
“We’ve always been pretty good there, but it’s a hard race,” he said. “For me last year, everything came together. You have to be on top of your game. There’s a lot of elevation there and you have to try to stabilize your car. That’s a different challenge there than at other places.”
Rahal noted that Mid-Ohio can be a strategic course to run.
“Strategy is always a big part of it,” he said. “If you can have good pit stops and strategy, it helps. At Mid-Ohio, a lot of track position comes into it — the farther you are up the field, the better you’ll be.”
That track position becomes especially essential at a winding road course like Mid-Ohio where good passing lanes aren’t particularly common.
“You have to put yourself in good spots and it position to succeed,” he said. “You have to be on your game at every corner all the time. I think we have a lot of work to do leading up to it.”
For Rahal, the son of famed racer Bobby Rahal, competing in IndyCar is more a dream come true than work, though.
“As a kid I loved it (racing),” he said. “Racing was all I wanted to do and still is. I started at 10 year old racing karts and working up to Indy at 18 and here I am.”
Rahal has had some big highlights in his career, including being part of the winning car in the 2011 Rolex 24 at Daytona, as well as his first IndyCar win as a 19-year old at St. Petersburg in 2008. However, the opportunity to win at Indy is a big goal for him. His best finish in the Indianapolis 500 was third in 2011.
“The Indy 500 is what it’s all about,” he said. “Our goal is to win it sooner rather than later.”
For now, though, he is focusing on the upcoming races this summer, including the Mid-Ohio event, where he is expecting a tough race.
“Every corner is important,” he said. “You have to be on top of your game and can’t make a mistake anywhere or it’ll hurt your time considerably.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS