Graham Rahal (left) and his father Bobby Rahal (right) have officially joined forces at Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Photo Credit: Chris Jones/IZOD IndyCar Series.
Two years ago, Graham Rahal joined Chip Ganassi Racing in its expansion to a four-car lineup, and it seemed like everything was in place for the second-generation American driver to ascend to contender status in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
At that point in time, he seemed quite confident that would happen. And considering Ganassi's massive resources and Rahal's clear talent, he had every reason to have such high hopes.
"Other than probably winning the Indy 500 or a championship, it's the best day that a driver can have," Rahal said at his first press conference as a Ganassi driver in December of 2010.
But instead of rising into the series' upper echelon, Rahal fought through a two-year run at CGR that didn't pan out as all parties hoped it would. In 32 races with Ganassi's "G2" operation, he went winless and only collected four podiums (three of which came in his first year with Ganassi in 2011).
He had a race win seemingly in the bag this past June at Texas Motor Speedway, but his brush against the Turn 4 wall with two laps remaining opened the door for Justin Wilson to charge by and take the checkered flag for himself. A couple of months later, Rahal revealed that he would be a free agent come the end of the 2012 campaign.
Almost immediately, he was linked to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which is co-owned by his father and former Indy 500 champion Bobby. Dad and son had worked together once before under the RLL banner at the 2010 '500', with RLL being one of multiple teams that Graham raced for that season before landing at Ganassi.
But while the prospect of working full-time with his father and other familiar faces was nice, RLL's reputation for revitalizing multiple drivers over the years appealed just as much to Graham.
"If you look back on the history of this team, you go back to guys throughout the '90s of course, but even giving guys their first big chance -- guys like Max Papis, of course, Buddy Rice, Michel Jourdain in the early 2000s," the younger Rahal said after announcing a multi-year deal to drive for RLL on Wednesday. "Guys that, as Dad would say, probably their careers were looking like they're coming to an end. Next thing you know, they're winning races on a consistent basis and are always a contender each and every weekend.
"So that's where I want to be and where I need to go as a driver. And that's what I think this team is going to allow me to do...I know that after being around them and they've known me for so many years. They're not going to give me any bad advice and we're all working towards the same goal."
RLL had an up-and-down 2012 with Takuma Sato in the cockpit for their single-car program (two podiums at Sao Paulo and Edmonton, but eight DNFs), but Bobby believes that his son can bring in the consistent results that his team needs in order to rise up the standings table.
"If we take away the father-son aspect, I think any team would want him driving their car," said the 1986 '500' winner. "I'm confident we can create the environment that he needs to excel, and that's our commitment to him and I think we're going to have a lot of success as a result."
Graham is just one piece of the puzzle that RLL is trying to complete for 2013. Sato is one of several free agents that could create a second car for the team.
But regardless of whoever winds up joining his son at RLL, Bobby is hoping to replicate the winning multi-car mix that his bigger rivals like Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Ganassi have now -- and the one his own team used to have in the mid-2000s.
"I'm not really interested in having a second car just for the sake of having a second car," he said. "It really needs to be a car that can help this team achieve a high level of success and competition. If you look at Penske, you look at Ganassi, you look at the way we were in 2004 or '05, '06 with Buddy [Rice] and Vitor [Meira] and Danica [Patrick], you have two very competitive drivers pushing each other. And by doing so, you push the team.
"That's been the Penske formula, the Ganassi formula, and that is the formula that we're trying to achieve here."
Quotes used in this article were taken from Wednesday's INDYCAR teleconference. All quotes have been attributed to their proper sources.