Bobby Rahal

First, make the start

This is a really hectic period for me. By the time you read this we’ll be just a couple of weeks away from our first race in our new historic series, when we’ll be at the Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on the weekend of May 21-23.

Boy, it’s hard work launching a series, especially historics in the USA where we haven’t had the passion for it like there is in Europe. But I’ve got some great people with me, with lots of experience in running big events, and right now it’s both frightening and exciting as we watch the entries rolling in for the first of three race meetings. But the proof will be in the pudding and first we have to capture the imagination of the competitors and the spectators, and yeah, we have a lot on our plate right now.

It’s looking pretty good, with two 512 Ferraris, some Can-Am cars and lots of great Grand Prix cars, and there’s been a lot of corporate interest which hasn’t been the case with historics over here in the past. But, you know, the guys who race the cars have busy lives with many other commitments and priorities – they’re racing for the fun and the passion and not as a living – so getting them to commit to dates for the season has been a challenge. It’s a bit of a dance, but a lot of fun as well.

I’m told the Indycar race at Barber will be the biggest event in Alabama this summer, which is amazing when you consider that Talladega is on that calendar too, so for sure it’s a place people want to go. And then we’re going to Watkins Glen and St Jovite, two of the crown jewels of the North American tracks, so hopefully we’ll see some big crowds there too. But it’s not like Goodwood, or Le Mans Classic, where people go as a matter of course – it’s a whole new challenge over here in the States.

I didn’t get to the first Indycar race in São Paulo but it was certainly a spectacular event and the circuit looked good, with plenty of overtaking opportunities. By all accounts, they did a good job getting the track surface tidied up for the race. But with those big slick tyres and lots of power you’re always going to get the cars sliding around and spinning, like we saw. The season is pretty much going as I thought it would – the dominant teams are still Penske and Ganassi – though I guess Chip Ganassi wishes he was running a third car, as so far it’s been Penske’s third car doing most of the winning. For Roger Penske, then, it’s been a smooth start to the season, but for Chip it’s been unusually troublesome, and then Dario Franchitti had a lacklustre weekend at St Petersburg.

All in all it’s more of the same, with Penske and Ganassi favourites for the championship, and everybody else is there to pick up the pieces when they falter. Last year Newman-Haas was the only team to threaten the top two, to be the only pretender to the throne, but that’s not happening yet. Justin Wilson (above) has done a great job so far for Dreyer & Reinbold and so has Simona De Silvestro for HVM – clearly she’s much faster than Danica Patrick, though she hasn’t had the luck in the races yet.

It’s been a tough winter and a tough start to the year for my son Graham and, as many young drivers know, just when everything looks great it can go upside down very quickly. He had an agreement with Newman-Haas for the Indycar season but they lost McDonald’s as a sponsor and couldn’t follow it through. Luckily for him, he’s got some races with Sarah Fisher’s team and I gotta hand it to her, she’s put her ego away and realised that she needed somebody much stronger on the road courses. OK, it’s not a top team yet, but they had a good race at St Pete’s ahead of more experienced teams and Graham will be with them right through until Long Beach. But it’s really tough to put a season together at this late stage and I told him it’s all about character building and most drivers go through this period, but he says he’s had enough of character building. When the wins come along, they’ll be all the sweeter for him after this, and he’s got plenty of people ready to run him if they can get the money.