Graham Rahal excited for fresh start with family team

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Graham Rahal is ready to write a new chapter in his career.

Rahal will be driving for his father, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing following a two-year run with Chip Ganassi Racing in which he went winless over 32 starts. But the Ohio native believes that his time in the Ganassi camp was still well-spent, and will prove valuable as he goes forward with RLL.

“Frankly, I don’t look at [my time with Ganassi] and say it was a complete failure,” Rahal said today in a media teleconference. “I think there were a lot of different things thrown our way and challenges that we didn’t think we would face going in there. Long story short, you learn from all these things.

“Every place I’ve ever gone, every team I’ve ever driven for, you learn through not only the way that they operate, the way that the engineers work, the mechanics…You learn about the business and how you want the car set up – I can tell you a Ganassi car was very different from the way I would’ve driven a Newman-Haas car in my past – but you figure those things out when you come and you learn the different styles. As a driver, my job is to write that down, try to remember it and carry it on to every other team that I may come across.”

This will be Rahal’s first full-time season with RLL (he drove for them in the 2010 Indianapolis 500), and the relaxed atmosphere at the team has him at ease going into 2013. He also believes that embarking on a full-time partnership with his father was destined to occur at some point.

“We’d been saying for a long time that this would eventually happen,” he said. “It was just really a matter of when, if and how. For us, we’ve always talked about it since I was a kid starting racing, but as many people know, Dad and I were very outspoken about having to earn it on your own and being out and competing for other teams, which is what I’ve done.

“However, at some point, everybody has to realize what’s in the best interests of myself as a driver, our family and of course, the team and our sponsors. It’s exciting for us to be together, and I’m looking forward to [the next three seasons with RLL] more than any seasons of my career.”

RLL returned to full-time competition in 2012 with Takuma Sato (now with A.J. Foyt Racing) behind the wheel and managed to collect two podiums at Sao Paulo and Edmonton. But it’s clear that the team wants more this coming season, and a refreshed Graham Rahal could be the key to it all.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”