It’s a sign of how young he still is and how fast time goes that Graham Rahal, 24, is five years removed from both his first and thus far only, IZOD IndyCar Series victory. It happened April 6, 2008 on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Even getting to the race was an accomplishment in itself. Barely more than a month earlier, IndyCar and Champ Car announced their merger that would see some parts of the Champ Car series amalgamated into IndyCar, with Champ Car teams acquiring older Dallara chassis.
Rahal, then 19 and with one year of Champ Car experience already under his belt, had an accident in testing a week earlier at Homestead, Fla.’s 1.5-mile oval. That meant his Newman/Haas Racing team had to thrash to repair his only car and he didn’t start the oval opener.
With a flat black, repaired tub back in action, Rahal drove with such maturity and poise to keep his head in a mostly rainy day in St. Pete to score the victory ahead of Brazilians Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan.
Earlier in the race, he was leading Ryan Hunter-Reay, who at the time was driving for Bobby Rahal’s team! That is a conundrum that neither party will have to worry about this year as Graham suits up for Bobby’s team on a full-time basis this year.
The race also saw E.J. Viso (fourth) and Enrique Bernoldi (fifth) score surprise top five finishes for HVM Racing and Conquest Racing, two additional former Champ Car teams. HVM has now joined in partnership with Andretti Autosport for Viso this year, and also is set to run a Lola LMP2 prototype in the FIA World Endurance Championship with the European-based Status GP team.
Eric Bachelart’s Conquest team, which ran twice in partnership with Andretti and driver Ana Beatriz last year, is also exploring its options in sports cars after it was not able to garner an engine lease on its own for the 2012 IndyCar season. It raced the entirety of the American Le Mans Series with three-race IndyCar starter Martin Plowman and programmer and burgeoning racing driver, David Heinemeier Hansson.