Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has released their driver Graham Rahal to replace the injured Stefan Wilson in the car co-run by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Cusick Motorsports for this weekend’s Indianapolis 500.
Wilson qualified 25th but crashed in practice yesterday, suffering a back injury which ruled him out of the race. That left D&R Racing in a race against time to find a replacement, but after making calls in the afternoon by 10:30pm they had secured their “first choice” Rahal as a replacement.
Rahal had only become available after he failed to qualify for the race. Besides working around his RLL contract, the other main obstacle to freeing him up to race for another team was that Rahal has been racing Honda-powered cars since 2009 and D&R Racing use Chevrolet engines. The team also have to prepare a replacement chassis for the race due to the damage from Wilson’s crash.
Wilson is the younger brother of the late Justin Wilson, who was a friend and team mate of Rahal’s early in their IndyCar careers.
“I think about Justin a lot. So when the call came, right away it was an immediate connection,” said Rahal. “Frankly I think in many ways, Justin in more ways than one shaped my career.”
“Their entire family, I have the upmost respect for. And in a scenario like this, had it been something different I don’t know how compelled I would have been. Particularly with the storylines of the last couple of days.
“Trust me, for me it was a bit of a bittersweet moment to ‘do I do it? Do I not? Is it appropriate? Is it not?’. But in this circumstance, with Dennis [Reinbold], with Don [Cusick], with Gary [Neal, team manager], with Stefan, it felt right, and I can’t thank Honda and Chevy and all the sponsors [enough].
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“It’s been a tough week for our sponsors as well, and for everybody who’s been able to make this possible to release me to come over here. I’m super-grateful.”
He said he’d “felt every emotion over the last couple of days” since he was eliminated from the race on the final lap of ‘bump day’ qualifying on Sunday. The contractual challenge of switching team and engine allegiances for a driver who has raced exclusively for Honda in IndyCar since 2008 meant “the hurdles were going to be massive,” said Rahal. “This wasn’t just as easy as saying ‘yes’.”
D&R Racing team owner Dennis Reinbold confirmed Rahal will start from last place on the 33-car grid, and that “our car will look a little bit different” to accommodate the sponsors and partners of Rahal’s non-qualifying entry alongside their existing backers.
The team believes it is “replacing one really class act with another one, so that makes a difference” in making the driver replacement decision knowing whoever got the seat only has two hours of practice on Friday to adjust to their car.
As Rahal is a full-time driver for RLL, and Wilson was appearing in the Indy 500 as a one-off, his change of teams is not expected to continue beyond this weekend.
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