In a crash during Monday’s practice, Stephen Wilson was hit from behind by Katherine Ledge. (Associated Press)
INDIANAPOLIS — Graham Rahal will eventually have a chance to keep his record of consecutive starts at the Indianapolis 500 intact. Injured Stephen Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold entered on Tuesday after failing to qualify for the race with their own team.
Wilson was hospitalized after breaking a vertebra in an accident during practice on Monday. He was ruled out of the race, leaving car owners Dennis Reinbold and Don Cusick to fight to replace him less than a week before the green flag on Sunday.
Rahal was their first choice, but he spent his career tied to the Honda that powers the Rahal-Letterman-Lannigan team, while Dreyer and Reinbold are powered by rival Chevrolet engines. . Rahal also has significant sponsorships for his full-time IndyCar team, all of which led to difficult negotiations to get permission from both the manufacturer and the sponsor to seal the deal.
“I’ve spent my entire career in a Honda. I’ve never driven anything else,” said Rahal. “We weren’t sure if we would be able to prepare a release to make this happen. The two manufacturers really joined forces to make this happen so that we can race on Sunday and hopefully we can get him. I hope that we can put the car in front and have a really strong run.”
Graham Rahal retired from the race after being hit by team-mate Jack Harvey in qualifying on Sunday. (USA Today/Reuters)
Wilson finished 25th in 33 races, beating all three entries of Rahal, Letterman and Lanigan. However, the driver change meant that Rahal would start from the back, alongside his usual team-mate Jack Harvey, whom he bumped into in the final seconds of qualifying.
“Jack hasn’t gotten rid of me yet,” Rahal said with a smile.
Wilson was hit from behind by another Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entrant, Katherine Legge, about an hour into her two-hour practice on Monday. Their two cars slammed into an exterior wall, and Ledge was able to crawl out of the wreckage unharmed, while Wilson remained at the hospital on Tuesday for additional tests.
“He’s pretty devastated,” Cusick said. “But they support what we’re doing here.”
Less than 48 hours later, it looked like Rahal’s 15-year streak of ‘the greatest spectacle in racing history’ had come to an end. His team struggled to get up to speed all week, and that continued into qualifying, when he sat in the bubble and headed to the track with Harvey for his final attempt to hit the field.
Harvey edged him out by a small margin, but Rahal suddenly knew how his father and team owner Bobby Rahal felt in 1993. The famous series champion was famously kicked off the field at the Indianapolis 500.
“The situation is very specific,” admitted the young Rahal. “A part of me was looking at where we were at the RLL and as a team and wondering if I could be more influential to improve Jack, Christian[Lundgaard]and Cat’s performance over the weekend. was in me.”
“It’s a little different now,” he added. “At the end of the day, we’re racing now. I always tell people, motorsport is one of the few sports where there are never guarantees. Things can change quickly. That’s why That’s the situation we’re in. Right now I’m going to do my best to get to victory lane. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine.”
Bobby Rahal said in a statement that he supports his son driving for another team.
“When Denise called me, we started working to make this happen,” he said. “The most amazing thing is that the various groups agreed to move forward, even though it was a somewhat difficult decision, out of respect for the sport and the Indy 500. Dennis, and for Graham. We are so grateful for the fact that everyone worked together to make this happen.”
Reinbold said the No. 24 car will look a little different on Sunday after the team has found a compromise to keep all its sponsors happy. He also thanked Bobby Rahal for answering what could have been an awkward conversation.
“We just worked as a group to see what we could do,” Reinbold said. “This was a dire situation for us. Graham had a situation on Sunday. I hope it will be a win-win.”
The team has a backup car, which Reinbold said is “almost ready”. Rahal was due to get in shape for the second half of Tuesday.
The Dreyer & Reinbold team has been participating in the Indy 500 for over 20 years, and at one point put as many as four cars in the “greatest spectacle of racing”. However, the team has scaled back from being a full-time IndyCar team a decade ago when it struggled to get enough sponsorships, and has only entered the Indy 500 in recent years.
However, Rahal will join Dreyer & Linebold’s team on Sunday with former Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“Ryan would be a great partner. He’s probably my closest friend since I started playing this sport,” Rahal said. “Ryan and I have always been very close. I am excited about this opportunity. and I’m excited to move this car forward.”