Mid-Ohio will always be special to Graham Rahal

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STEAM CORNERS, Ohio – When Graham Rahal was just a kid, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was his playground. His father, Bobby, was one of the big-name stars of the 1980s and 1990s, his shop was based in Hilliard, Ohio and the Rahals made the Columbus, Ohio suburb of New Albany their home.

Young Graham would accompany his father to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the big-time CART races at that time, and maybe a few test sessions when Rahal was in the early days of owning his own racing team in the 1990s.

Bobby Rahal’s final season as a driver was in 1998 and he was honored at many of the race tracks, including Mid-Ohio. The Rahal Family took a ceremonial lap around the road course before that 1998 race with nine-year-old Graham waving to the fans seated alongside his famous father.

Bobby Rahal finished third that day at a track where he won back-to-back races in 1985-86.

Two decades later, Graham joined his father as a winner at Mid-Ohio in 2015, driving a Honda owned by Bobby Rahal along with former TV funnyman David Letterman and South Chicago industrialist Michael Lanigan.

To this day, Graham, now 30, considers that his greatest victory.

“Having won there in 2015, it’s a special race for me,” Rahal told NBC Sports.com. “In 2015, we were in a really good place in the championship that year and the win at Mid-Ohio helped us close the gap on Juan Pablo Montoya. The home crowd, I will never forget doing the doughnuts afterwards and looking up and seeing all the people go nuts. It’s a moment, I will never, ever forget. Sharing the podium with my good friend, Justin Wilson, was extremely special as well. It was an important day in my career.

“I’m hoping we can make it happen again. I don’t see why we can’t. We’ve had really good runs there in the past and hopefully, we can get another one.”

Rahal hopes to break into NTT IndyCar Series victory lane for the first time this season in Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Watch the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on NBC Sunday, July 28 at 4 p.m. Eastern Time.

“I think we are looking good off Road America, but also Toronto, Rahal said. “We learned some great stuff at Toronto. Between the two of those, I feel strongly we are in a good spot and we should be pretty competitive as we go forward into Mid-Ohio. I’m excited. It’s an important race for me. It’s my home race. I love competing there.”

There are many things that make the 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course unique. It is set in the middle of Ohio’s “Amish Country” with cornfields surrounding the twists and turns of the course.

It also features an up-and-down ride for the high-speed competitors.

“The elevation is the most unique because to go fast there, you really have to push to the limit,” Rahal explained. “We say that everywhere, but there are certain areas that are trickier than the others. At Mid-Ohio, you have a lot of elevation. You have a ton through the Keyhole through Turn 2 and at the end of the backstraight, Turn 4 really falls away from you, then you go way up the hill, straight up into Turns 5 and 6. The elevation makes that such a challenging track to figure out and find the speed.

“We’ve raced there a long time, now, and hopefully we can have a good weekend and our car can be more settled than at some of the other places. Our performance at Road America, we found some good stuff and had a great race day. I’m excited. We should be pretty strong.”

The race course is located on Interstate 71 between Ohio’s largest city of Columbus and the metropolis of Cleveland. But it is also a short drive from IndyCar’s home base of Indianapolis, with many fans making the four-hour drive to spend the weekend camping out at Mid-Ohio.

Even many of the IndyCar team crewmembers camp out at the track, instead of spending another weekend in a motel.

“It’s good fun,” Rahal admitted. “We all stay at the track, but a lot of guys camp out. We have a lot of friends and family that camp. It’s a great environment. It’s a special place.

“I strongly urge anybody who hasn’t been to come check it out. It’s very different than most of the places you go to. It’s a great place to enjoy a race with the family. As I’ve said a few times, hopefully we can get another win.”

Getting a win would help give Rahal a boost to what has been an unusual season. He was expected to be a top-five competitor for the NTT IndyCar Series championship and at times has had some really good races. But he arrives at Mid-Ohio eighth in the championship, 197 points behind points leader Josef Newgarden with only five races left in the season.

He finished third at Texas Motor Speedway in June and fourth at Circuit of the Americas (COTA), Long Beach and Road America. He also has a pair of seventh-place finishes in both races of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

But it was a crash in the 103rdIndianapolis 500 when Rahal was in position for a top-four finish that doomed his season.

“We’ve raced pretty well at a lot of place, but Indianapolis is going to haunt us,” Rahal admitted. “It’s going to haunt us not from the fact we would have finished third or fourth, but because points-wise that really shaped our season in the wrong direction. The gap between finishing third or fourth to 27thwas almost 50 points. Fifty-points would put us fourth in the championship right now.

“We’ve had a good year but let a couple of good opportunities slip. Toronto was disappointing. We passed a ton of cars at Toronto and had one of the fastest cars for sure. To let that one slip hurt. But we also maximized others where maybe we weren’t as strong.

“Goods and bads – that’s the way it goes. We still need to work on our pace a little bit and get our cars a little more competitive than what they are in a couple of areas.

“I feel good about going into Mid-Ohio this weekend.

“Let’s go make it happen.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.