Bobby Rahal goes to NHRA race to scout a driver — future daughter-in-law, Courtney Force

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JOLIET, Il. – IndyCar team owner and former CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal was on a scouting trip of sorts on Friday, checking out a driver.

This was a rather unique scouting trip, as Rahal was at Route 66 Raceway, and the driver is National Hot Rod Association Funny Car pilot Courtney Force. It’s the first time Rahal has been at an NHRA race in over a decade.

But Rahal isn’t going to hire Force for his IndyCar team. Rather, he wanted to see how his future daughter-in-law does behind the wheel, as Force and Bobby’s son, IndyCar driver Graham Rahal, are getting married in November in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“I’ve always been very impressed with this sport, and particularly now that my future daughter-in-law is out there,” Rahal said. “She’s a great girl and is doing a great job and it’s fun to come out and cheer her on.”

Rahal is also having fun hanging around Courtney’s father, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force – who is such a contrast to his daughter.

“The first time I met her, Courtney was, I don’t want to say shy, but quiet – not like John,” Rahal said with a smile. “With John, he’s at the rev limit all the time.

“Courtney comes across as a very solid person, and as I’ve gotten to know her a lot better over the last year and a half or so, she’s a great girl. I’m very glad for both of them. She makes (Graham) happy and he makes her happy.”

And the younger Force can certainly wheel a Funny Car. She was No. 1 after the first qualifying round Friday and No. 4 after the second qualifying session later in the evening — two spots higher than dear old dad. There are two more qualifying rounds Saturday night.

There’s no question that the pending merger between two of the biggest names in motorsports may lead to some interesting times in the future.

When asked what direction his future grandkids might follow in motorsports, Rahal smiled and said, “I don’t know what direction they’re going to go, but I’m sure John’s going to do all he can do to make them drag racers.”

But Rahal appreciates his son’s future father-in-law for the person he is and all the achievements he’s made in drag racing.

“What I like about John is what you see is what you get, it’s not an act,” Rahal said. “I love John. I have a lot of respect for the guy, he’s made his way.

“In some respects, I wonder where drag racing would be without him. He’s such an engaging and popular figure, people love him. And I’m impressed that he’s a couple years older than me and he’s still going 300-plus mph, so he’s a lot braver I am, that’s for sure.”

When asked if he’s getting nervous at his son’s impending nuptials, Rahal’s face broke into a big smile.

“No, I’m not nervous because I don’t have to pay for that wedding,” he said with a laugh. “I called John up and left a message on his voicemail that this was going to be the most expensive wedding in Southern California in 2015.”

Like most fathers, Rahal has already given his son some advice about getting married — and about his future father-in-law.

“I told Graham,” the elder Rahal said with another big smile on his face, “you do realize you’re marrying John, too, right?”

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James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.