IndyCar: Graham Rahal looking forward to racing 3 ovals in a row

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Graham Rahal’s mind has been going around in circles lately.

Or more precisely, ovals.

With four of the remaining six races on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule being on ovals – starting with Saturday afternoon’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway – Rahal is looking forward to going round-and-round again.

“We have some big races coming up, obviously,” Rahal said in a media release. “There are three oval races in a row and it’s big for us from the points standing perspective because we’re in the thick of this thing.

“Ovals haven’t been our strong point up to now, but we’re really trying to turn it around and get some good runs in the next few races.”

While he finished fifth in last month’s Indianapolis 500, Rahal’s second-worst performance thus far this season was two races ago, when he finished 15th at Texas.

“All in all, there are a lot of positives that came from what we learned and also from mistakes we made, like the downforce level we decided to run in the race at Texas,” Rahal said. “We just have to keep learning from things like that and I can guarantee we won’t do it this time around.”

Now, over the next four weeks, Rahal is starting straight ahead at Fontana (2 miles), Milwaukee (one mile) and Iowa (7/8 mile).

“These three oval races are completely different,” Rahal said. “We have a 500-miler at Fontana, then one on a flat oval in Milwaukee and a flat, short, high-banked oval in Iowa – and you run different wing packages so they are each different.

“From a mindset standpoint, all oval races are very similar, though. Five-hundred mile races are a little different due to the length, but they are all very similar in the way that you approach them.

“The experience we gained on the ovals in Indy and Texas should help us a lot on the setup and with knowledge of the aerodynamics of the car and what we need to be competitive at Auto Club Speedway.”

In the midst of one of the best seasons thus far of his career, there’s a lot more still to gain for Rahal, who is currently fifth in the IndyCar standings, 91 points behind series leader Juan Pablo Montoya.

“We certainly hope to be very competitive at Fontana,” Rahal said. “We have proven to be a contender all year and we need to just keep going down that path and putting ourselves in a position to win.

“Obviously it’s not going to be easy as we’ve seen all season. But I certainly hope we can get ourselves into a position where we can contend with all those frontrunners and, if nothing else, stay fifth in the championship, which is the key at this point. We’ve got some good guys behind us, but I feel like they are guys that we can beat.”

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”