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Q&A with Graham Rahal

A love for racing (and St. Pete?)

How does it feel to be the defending St. Pete Grand Prix champ?

"Obviously that event will forever be special to me. It's not just the race. I really enjoyed it, being here. Being part of the event and to be in St. Pete. So, for it to end that way, it was definitely a good feeling."

Some people criticize street races as "parades" where there is no passing.

"St. Pete you can pass in. The thing about St. Pete — it's really easy to mess up. … You're on the edge at all times. That's something that's different (from other street courses)."

Has fellow IR driver and St. Petersburg resident Dan Wheldon tried to sell you on moving here?

"Dan lives here and also my old teammate, Sebastien Bourdais … he lived here and he loved it, too, so there's a couple people telling me this is a good place to be. A lot of guys go to Miami. I'm not a Miami person. … I much prefer to stay up here ... So, I'm definitely considering looking at it, that's for sure."

Your dad, Bobby's team (Rahal-Letterman Racing), may not race this season in the IRL because it is without sponsorship. Where does it stand?

"I think they are basically hoping (to land a sponsor up until) the final seconds into when the season starts. … It's unfortunate that, currently, there's nothing there. For Dad, I know that's the toughest situation he's probably been in in many years. This is his love, this is his passion, this is his living. He sets out to compete and to win every year. To potentially not have a team in the series, this kills him, that's for sure."

Are expectations for you this season becoming unrealistic?

"No, I don't think it has. Realistically, we ought to be able to fight for race wins and fight for the championship. Now, it's not going to be easy. For us as a team, a transition team (coming over from the defunct Champ Car series), there still is a long way to go to figure these cars out. … We had a great car in St. Pete last year and we ought to be able to come here and compete for a win — plain and simple. And if we don't, I'll be disappointed.

How odd will it be to start the season without Paul Newman?

It was a tough last year for us because we rarely got to see him. I wish that he was still around — still around in a healthy way without cancer. There's nothing better than to see him with a big smile on his face, and last year it was pretty rare to see that. You knew he was in a lot of pain. … You can't put a value on having Paul Newman as a team owner. The things that he would do to help our team raise sponsors, to help our team grow, the amount of financial support he would give us. It's a rare and special occasion that you get in our sport or any sport to find a superstar that wants to help out. That their passion really is in the sport. … Paul's love was racing.

What about your goals beyond this season? Formula One has been mentioned.

"As an American, all I want to do is see (IndyCar) be successful. Quite frankly, at this point in my life, I don't feel like moving to Europe. … I just want to see this open-wheel series be successful and fight NASCAR (for popularity). … I think the racing in the IndyCar series is umatched."

Graham Rahal, the defending champion of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, was in the Tampa Bay area recently to "break the silence" on this year's race. Tbt* caught up with Rahal while he was on a one-day blitz of TV appearances. We sat down with the IndyCar driver in a make-up room at WTSP-Ch. 10, where we discussed his being the youngest winner of an IRL race, the loss of his former boss, Paul Newman, and whether he would consider someday making the bay area his home. In person, it's easy to forget that the 6-foot-2 Rahal — dressed in racer chic of an Indianapolis Motor Speedway T-shirt, sports jacket and acid-washed jeans — had just turned 20. He teams up this season with veteran open-wheeler Robert Doornbos at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. In conversation, Rahal is well-spoken and positively passionate about cars. Here's some of our chat. — Peter Couture, pcouture@tampabay.com

IndyCar 2009

For the first time, the series — which begins testing this week at Homestead-Miami Speedway — will open with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg April 4 to 6. For tickets and information, see gpstpete.com.

A love for racing (and St. Pete?) 02/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 23, 2009 11:21am]

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