How octogenarian Roger Penske taught Graham, Bobby Rahal valuable lesson at Rolex 24

Photo courtesy IMSA
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Graham Rahal has learned almost everything he knows about IndyCar racing from his father, team owner and former three-time open-wheel champ Bobby Rahal.

But the younger Rahal – and the elder Rahal to an extent, as well – learned some very valuable lessons at this past weekend’s Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

And the person they learned them from was none other than the winningest team owner in IndyCar history, Roger Penske.

But the lessons weren’t necessarily about what was on the racetrack, but how Penske was able to remain awake – and more importantly – alert during the entire 24 hours of the Rolex.

With just a couple of breaks for the call of nature, Penske didn’t sleep or nod off or even try to catch a quick 10-minute cat nap. He was on top of the pit box, constantly discussing strategy for his two sports car teams, which were making their debut in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship competition.

Somehow, Penske remained pretty much bright-eyed and bushy-tailed from the start of the race at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday until the checkered flag 24 hours later on Sunday.

After the race was over, Penske continued to be like the Energizer Bunny, promptly leaving Daytona for a business trip to Europe. He’s someone we all could learn from on how to pace ourselves.

And also don’t forget that Penske is 80 years old (turns 81 on Feb. 20).

“As I said to my dad, I thought the more impressive thing was I got an email (from Penske) the next morning, apologizing that he didn’t see me after the race because he had to get to Ireland for a breakfast meeting, and then he was in Germany for a lunch meeting,” Graham Rahal said.

“That’s what’s more impressive than anything else. The guy (Penske), he’s a machine. He doesn’t stop. … For a young guy, there’s a lot (to learn from someone like Penske), for anybody.

“But for young people, there’s a lot to be learned from that mindset and that work ethic.”

Bobby Rahal tried to make it to 24 hours, but eventually had to give in and grab about 90 minutes of sleep in the middle of the night.

“No, I didn’t make it all 24 like Roger, but I gave it a good try,” Rahal said with a chuckle.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.