POWELL — Graham Rahal may be a championship contender in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series points chase, but he was no match for a stubborn Black Rhino at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
Rahal was enjoying a media luncheon at the famed zoo. He enjoys promoting IndyCar Series events, but especially when the race is being held at his home track, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in Lexington, Ohio. The June 15 media event was especially fun, because he was able to spend time with his godfather, Zoo Director Jack Hanna.
Hanna was giving his godson a tour of the famed zoo. They planned on feeding a black rhino while Rahal was on the grounds, but the rhino had other ideas.
“We actually didn’t get to do that,” Rahal laughed. “The rhino was sitting over in the shade and he didn’t want to leave it. So he apparently didn’t want to come over and hang out with us, but it’s always an amazing experience to be able to hang out with Jack. It’s just cool to get to hang out behind the scenes, and get to play with baby cheetahs and see the other animals.”
Rahal spoke with Columbus-area media about the upcoming Honda Indy 200 Indycar race, scheduled to run July 29 at the famed Mid-Ohio race track, a twisting 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course, but took the time to do a phone interview with the Xenia Daily Gazette.
Is he excited about coming “home” to Mid-Ohio?
“It’s probably one of my all-time favorites. In many ways, that track helped shape and form my love for this sport,” he said. “I spent a lot of time there as a kid, with my buddies, just enjoying it. It’s special for me. And to be able to win there a couple years back, that was the single greatest accomplishment of my career so far. I’m excited to get back there.
“Racing for Honda, it’s a big race weekend for us, but it’s always been a special track in my heart.”
Rahal drives a Honda-Dallara Indy car for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing operation, which is co-owned by businessman Michael Lanigan, former Late Night talk show host David Letterman, and Graham’s dad, three-time series champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. When Bobby was winning races in the 1990s, Graham was just a kid from New Albany tagging along and having fun at the track.
Graham Rahal made his IndyCar Series debut in 2007. The following season, he became the youngest driver to win an Indy car race, winning the St. Petersburg street course event when he was aged 19 years, 93 days. He’s been a series contender ever since.
He won the Honda Indy 200 event in 2015.
Currently, Rahal stands sixth in the overall points standings. He’s the highest ranking driver in the standings without a pole position or a win, however, and he hopes to change that, and soon.
“I don’t ever like being at this point in the season and not having win or a pole,” he said. “We know we’ve gotta remain focused on the goal we have of winning the championship. If we can get a couple wins along the way, there’s no doubt that that would put us right up there in points. We’ve done a good job, just not a great job, and hopefully we can turn that around pretty soon.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series has a trio of key races to run prior to Mid-Ohio. The series hits the road course at Road America on Sunday, June 24, before the drivers will spar July 8 at the fast 1.5-mile oval of Iowa Speedway. Two weeks before the Honda Indy 200, the series will make its only jaunt across the border into Canada. They’ll race July 15 on the streets of Toronto, before heading to Lexington.
“This next stretch, I think is what Indycar racing is all about. There’s so much diversity of tracks and venues that we go to. It’s a huge challenge that’s ahead of us. We should be okay as a team,” Rahal said. “The summer swing here is ultimately what sets you up in determining whether you’re going to be a championship contender, or not.”
And there’s no more rhinos slowing him down, either.
Contact John Bombatch at 937-372-4444, Ext. 2123. Tickets for the July 29 Honda Indy 200 Verizon IndyCar Series auto race are available online at midohio.com/tickets.