They’ve raced enough to realize there’s no need for much trash talk, but Graham Rahal and Marco Andretti acknowledge the generational racing rivalry between their families is still intense.
Before the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers participated in question-and-answer sessions on the Bell helmets stage during Saturday’s Performance Racing Industry trade show at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Rahal was advised he would start ahead of Andretti.
Rahal couldn’t resist lobbing the first barb.
“As is normally the case,” Rahal said, smiling. “Nah, just kidding.”
All jokes aside, it still means something extra when one beats the other.
“The rivalry still exists, there’s no doubt about that,” Rahal said. “There’s no hiding that. We’re all competitive guys, but yeah, for sure, it exists.”
Their last names became synonymous with racing when Mario Andretti and Michael Andretti combined to win 94 Indy car races and five Indy car season championships, while Bobby Rahal won 24 races and three crowns. Mario’s 52 career wins rank second on the Indy car all-time list. Michael is third with 42. Bobby is tied for 17th all time with Ralph DePalma.
The families crossed paths on Indy car tracks around the globe for 17 seasons. When Bobby raced Indy cars from 1982-98, there was at least one Andretti on track with him (also including Mario's son Jeff and nephew John). The rivalry laid dormant for a decade until Graham joined the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2008 and went head-to-head with Marco.
Mario won the 1969 Indianapolis 500. Bobby won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Michael came close so many times at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but retired as a driver with the dubious distinction of leading the most laps (431) without an Indianapolis 500 victory.
As a team owner, Michael made his fifth trip to victory lane at IMS in May with Takuma Sato. Michael’s cars have won the Indy 500 three of the past four years.
Graham reminded that each time his father won a series title in 1986, 1987 and 1992, Michael Andretti finished second.
“There’s a lot of satisfaction in that,” Graham said.
He was raised with the understanding that the Andrettis were a formidable foe.
“When I was a kid, in my dad’s workout room there was a picture of him and Michael Andretti dueling it out at Detroit,” Graham said. “He always told me that was his greatest motivation. That’s all he needed in the gym to get his blood flowing, just to remember who they’re out there trying to beat.
“It speaks very highly of the Andrettis, too. They were always great competitors and won a lot of races. The way Dad perceived them as the guys to beat, it speaks highly of them.”
Marco, Michael’s son and Mario’s grandson, was unaware of Bobby Rahal’s workout motivation.
“That’s cool,” Marco said. “Whatever works.
“My goal is definitely to try to beat everybody. If it’s a mediocre day, it’s nice to finish ahead of (Graham). He’s been having a couple of good years. We’re looking to turn it on now.”
Graham Rahal, driving for his father in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, swept both Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear races last season to boost his career win total to six. He finished sixth in the points after placing fifth and fourth the previous two years.
Marco Andretti enjoyed one of his best Verizon IndyCar Series seasons as a rookie in 2006, when he finished second in the Indianapolis 500 and won at Sonoma Raceway. His only other career win came at Iowa Speedway in 2011. He finished 12th in the points in 2017, as he drove for his father’s team, Andretti Autosport, for the 12th straight season.
“We love beating all the Andretti cars, period, but Marco in particular,” Graham said. “They’re all great guys over there. Ryan Hunter-Reay, he’s my man. I love that guy. (Alexander) Rossi and (Zach) Veach is there now. Nothing against ‘em, but the rivalry exists.”
Part of that team rivalry comes from the fact that both run Hondas, which makes the competition to be "best in class" a priority. All that said, Graham said he’s learned it’s wise to refrain from making bold statements.
“The best thing in life is to always be humble and not make too many comments,” he said. “When I was a kid, you always said stuff. It was fun. You liked to be edgy and say stupid things you shouldn’t.
“As you get older, you realize the more stupid stuff you say, it eventually comes back and bites you. It’s best not to say it.”
The Rahals, Andrettis and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock will battle it out in the 2018 season beginning with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11. The 17-race schedule concludes with the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16.
For more information about Honda Racing, visit http://hpd.honda.com/.