DALLAS – June can’t get here soon enough if you’re Graham Rahal.
The 28-year-old Ohio native took part in Texas Motor Speedway’s annual “No Limits Luncheon” Thursday at Gilley’s, interacting with fans and media in preparation for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 on the Fort Worth track. The race weekend is scheduled for June 9-10.
It’s easy to understand why Rahal is eager to get back to the 1.455-mile oval. In August, he won the race’s rain-delayed conclusion by a slim 0.0080 of a second – the closest margin of victory in the track’s 20-year history and the fifth closest in Indy car history.
"Last year, great memories to get the win," said Rahal. "This place has been tough before and last year rewarded us.”
Texas Motor Speedway recently underwent a reconfiguration, expanding Turns 1 and 2 in width from 60 feet to 80 feet and dropping the banking from 24 degrees to 20 degrees. An extensive drainage system has been added underneath the track surface to speed the track-drying process in case of inclement weather.
Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, expects a more intense and thrilling show for the fans this year – if that’s possible.
“We're going to have to focus pretty hard on the repave,” said Rahal. “I anticipate the race will be even crazier than what you saw at the end of last season. The repave is going allow us to go potentially even more cars wide. I'm anticipating you'll have a little more grip just because it's new.
“The old track was pretty rough on top of (Turns) 3 and 4 and our cars, as low to the ground as we run, made it difficult. I hope that's a little better this year.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series is set to test at TMS on April 12, and the four-time Indy car race winner is looking forward to seeing all of the changes firsthand.
"It's going to be exciting to go out there and see the facility all done up and looking good,” said Rahal.
"We're going to get to test after the (NASCAR) race and I would think it's going to change things for us quite a bit. From a tire perspective, it's going to be relatively the same, but with new pavement you're going to have to adjust things quite a bit.”
The goal for Rahal is simple: repeat last year’s victory.
"I hope the end result is the same as last year,” he said. “That’s what we’re working hard to do. It was one of the most exhilarating races you could ever watch. I mean, I heard from fans of all types that last year's INDYCAR race here was one of the top three races they've ever seen in their lifetime.
“Hopefully we can replicate that once again and come out on top."
The second-generation racer pointed to onboard video from his car of the final 10 laps that took social media by storm as evidence of the widespread popularity of last year’s race.
"It's edge-of-your-seat racing, but it's also clean," said Rahal, who also had the opportunity at the luncheon with TMS president Eddie Gossage to unveil a life-sized version of the Graham Rahal bobblehead that will be offered to fans attending the June race. "There wasn't too much bumping and banging, which we don't need in our cars. Guys were giving each other room and guys were having a blast. The fans love it.
“The response to the video on my Facebook page, it had over 2.5 million impressions in just a few days. People are attracted to that style of craziness. So, if it's safe and if it's fast, it'll be fine with us.
“The new car (that INDYCAR will debut in 2018 with a new universal aero kit) is going to produce even closer racing the way it develops downforce, so I would anticipate the racing over the next couple of years is going to get better and better and better."
Ticket information for the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 is available here. The race airs live at 8 p.m. ET June 10 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.