Graham Rahal adjusting to new engine, car after taking over for Stefan Wilson

Chloe Peterson
Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — Everything is different in Graham Rahal’s new No. 24 Chevrolet.

For the first time in his career, he isn’t racing with a Honda engine. He’ll be working with a new team, new car, new engine, new brakes and new steering wheel.

“Obviously, the engine is different, the brakes feel different, everything feels different,” Rahal said. “Even the way the buttons feel to the bumps through the gloves. There’s a lot that goes into that.”

Rahal, a 15-time Indianapolis 500 driver, was originally bumped from the field driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing on Sunday. But he took over for Dreyer and Reinbold/Cusick Motorsports driver Stefan Wilson, who was injured in a crash with RLL driver Katherine Legge, on Monday.

After Legge ran into the back of his car, Wilson’s No. 24 Chevrolet went directly into the barrier of the track. A crew had to extract him out of the car and onto a stretcher. He fractured his 12th vertebrae in the crash, requiring surgery that was performed on Wednesday.

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While Rahal will now continue his streak of driving in the Indy 500, he knew it came at a cost.

“I don’t want to overshadow what I think Stef has done, and done very well, the last couple of weeks to get this team, this car, where it’s at,” Rahal said. 

Rahal didn’t hesitate to jump back into the field when he got the call from Dennis Reinbold, a good friend of his and one of the owners of Dreyer and Reinbold Racing. In the last three days, he’s worked with DRR, his sponsors, and the mechanic team to get adjusted to his new car.

DRR had to go to a backup car for Rahal in the Indy 500, as Wilson’s original car was not fixable in the timeframe. The backup car has a 2-year-old Dallara chassis, which has made its way around the league.

“I was joking earlier that I’ve had like 10 drivers come up to me and tell me they drove this chassis,” Rahal said. “So, she’s been used up a little bit.”

But Rahal’s transition has been nearly seamless, he said. His new teammate, DRR’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, thinks the new car will still be an improvement.

“I think it’ll be a nice transition for him, because the way he was describing his car didn’t seem very friendly,” Hunter-Reay said. “Ours seems to be on the stronger side.”

Hunter-Reay has been giving Rahal advice throughout the week, answering everything from working with a Chevrolet engine to working with DRR. Hunter-Reay has experience switching teams at the last minute, as he went from Vision Racing to A.J. Foyt Racing in the week of the Indianapolis 500 in 2009.

“You have to go into another team’s garage, get in there and meet all new people,” Hunter-Reay said. “Everything’s new. Different car, different feeling, different steering wheel, it’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time.”

Rahal said he’s requested minor modifications to his steering wheel to better fit his wheel with RLL, including switching the radio and pit lane speed button,

“I certainly don’t want to hit those inadvertently,” Rahal said.

But he won’t make too many modifications to the steering wheel and car, he said, out of respect for Wilson’s seat and DRR as a whole.

Rahal and Legge, who fixed her original car, both got 15 minutes for an installation period Thursday afternoon ahead of the final practice on Friday’s Carb Day.

“I felt comfortable (in the car),” Rahal said. “The only thing I can’t change is the steering wheel, so what I’m used to is going to be different from what I’m getting. But we’ll make it work.”

Rahal is starting 33rd, last in the field, at the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.