Having met with Romain Grosjean after their May 1 dustup at Barber Motorsports Park, and since talked to IndyCar officials, Graham Rahal has done all he do – for now.
So does that mean the Rahal Letterman Racing driver believes things are settled with Grosjean heading into May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
“I suppose we’ll find out next time we’re wheel to wheel, which it seems we are every weekend, he and I,” Rahal told NBC Sports during a sponsor event last week about where things stand with Grosjean. “So, we’ll see what comes of that.”
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What almost certainly won’t come of it is a situation similar to the closing laps Sunday at Darlington Raceway. While NASCAR affords, and even encourages, the frontier justice allowed by fenders, IndyCar’s open-wheel racing has no such provision for retaliation.
So how does Rahal send a message without being able to send an opponent the same way that Joey Logano did to William Byron?
“The beauty of IndyCar racing is understanding how to race wheel to wheel,” Rahal said. “Race hard, race clean and properly execute a pass. I think that’s one of the greatest things about IndyCar racing is the mano a mano battle that takes place both mentally and physically in the race car to put yourself in the position to properly execute a pass and to properly go beat somebody cleanly.
“I was probably side by side with Scotty (McLaughlin) 10 laps in a row at Barber (and) never touched, never had a problem. One hundred percent clean racing. That’s the way it should be.
"It was a gentle touch." – @RGrosjean
"When we go and punt him, (race control) better not do anything to me." – @GrahamRahal
What do you make of the late-race contact between Grosjean and Rahal? #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/6aD3ZmJssC
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 2, 2022
“NASCAR obviously is a little bit different (with) big fenders. The style is a little bit different on an oval. The easiest way around (is) ‘I’m just going to give you the old nudge.’ But that’s not what the core of IndyCar racing has been about. You go back to my dad’s era and everything else. Clean, hard racing. That’s what it’s about. So for me, that’s what I enjoy. And we’ll see how it is going forward. Literally, that’s all I can say.”
Grosjean was channeling NASCAR in an interview with The Associated Press while attending the F1 Miami Grand Prix last week. The Andretti Autosport driver quoted the movie “Days of Thunder” in addressing his contact with Rahal at Barber.
“Racing is rubbing, or rubbing is racing,” Grosjean told The AP. “I don’t know, I was on for some good points and I wanted more. It was racing. That’s it.”
But the incident reverberated longer for Rahal, who said he received texts from more than 10 IndyCar drivers in support of his pointed criticism of Grosjean while accusing the Frenchman of intentional contact. (Rahal addressed the incident in a lengthy reply comment to an Instagram post.)
“I’m not alone in my feelings and my frustrations, so we’ll just leave it at that,” Rahal said. “This is not just me.”
"We're learning his reputation quickly here."@GrahamRahal on the aggressive driving by Romain Grosjean. #INDYCAR pic.twitter.com/npX514IUzB
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 1, 2022
In their postrace meeting at Barber, Rahal added he and Grosjean “agreed to disagree, and we’ll see each other at the (GMR) Grand Prix.” Practice begins Friday at 9:30 a.m. ET (Peacock Premium) on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for Saturday’s 3 p.m. race on NBC and Peacock Premium.
Rahal will enter ninth in points despite run-ins with Andretti drivers in two of the season’s first four races.
In the March 20 race at Texas Motor Speedway, Rahal finished 22nd after his No. 15 Dallara-Honda was wiped out by Devlin DeFrancesco, who subsequently received a grid penalty for Long Beach.
“I think we all go through phases in our career where this is common, and it feels like you can’t kind of get a break, getting hit all the time or whatever,” Rahal said. “But at the end of the day, it’s also important that we all respect each other tremendously because there’s just a lot that can happen in an open-wheel vehicle. It’s just important that we take care of each other.”
That’s partly why Rahal said he talked to IndyCar race stewards Arie Luyendyk and Max Papis after Barber.
“In all fairness to Arie and Max. I think they do get it,” Rahal said. “They are stylistically more lenient than maybe others have been. But as I told them, leniency is OK. Leniency is fine, but consistency is key. As I pointed out, I just think it’s important that they take that into consideration.
“But I have nothing ill to say about Max or Arie or (IndyCar president) Jay (Frye) or (race director) Kyle (Novak). I think everybody is trying their best to put on a good show. Barber looked like a great show. There’s a lot of stuff happening. A lot. That’s what we want as a sport.
“So let’s just keep going down that path. We can have our differences. We can argue. But at the end of the day, we just have to keep the train moving down the right tracks. That’s all.”