“Bittersweet moment” for Rahal as he replaces injured Wilson on Indy 500 grid


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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.

A dejected Rahal was eliminated from the race on Sunday
“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.”

Stefan Wilson, Dreyer & Reinbold, Indianapolis, 2023
Rahal will take over Wilson’s car
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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Ida Wood
Often found in junior single-seater paddocks around Europe doing journalism and television commentary, or dabbling in teaching photography back in the UK. Currently based...

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10 comments on ““Bittersweet moment” for Rahal as he replaces injured Wilson on Indy 500 grid”

  1. One of the few cases where manufacturers put the sport above their own self interests. Really happy to see this happen.

  2. So great that Honda and Chevrolet allowed this to happen!

    i’m a bit surprised he will have to start from the last position though. The last time I remember, in Indy500 it was the car who was the actual entrant, not the driver, which would make Rahal take over where Wilson finished the qualiy – at 25th.

    1. It’s standard practice, the car is qualified, not the driver. You can replace the driver but doing so results in the car being sent to the back of the field regardless of circumstance. The extreme example is 1996, where Scott Brayton took the pole but died in a crash the following Friday. Danny Onglais was recruited to start the car but was sent to the back of the field, giving Tony Stewart the pole for the race.

      It’s happened many times over the years so is nothing new.

  3. Whilst I get why this has happened, surely the safety risks here are being underestimated? Whilst Rahal can clearly drive a car around the track in familiar machinery, moving between chassis and engine manufacturers means he surely won’t be up to speed with the track time available. This has the probable knock-on effect of running the risk of turning into a mobile chicane which at these speeds would be incredibly dangerous!

    1. @chimaera2003 In Indycar on oval races cars will get black flagged if they are dangerously off the pace – Colton Herta for example last year was ordered to stop by race control because he way off the pace (he was driving the spare car after crashing on carb day)

      1. @graham228221 Forgot that Colton Herta was forced to stop last year. Although given that Herta was in the same team and engine with a spare car (although much less time to prepare it) and was too slow, it doesn’t bode well for Rahal with all the extra adjustments he will need to made. Just seems an unnecessary risk, but I hope to be proved wrong.

        1. @chimaera2003 he’s got Carb Day practice session (Friday) to get up to speed with the new chassis and engine. And it’s not like he’s completely out of practice or coming in without any running. Take 2017, Sebastien Bourdais crashed in qualifying and was replaced by James Davison who hadn’t run in Indycar for 2 years. He wasn’t allowed to take part in day 2 qualifying and had to retake the refresher test before being allowed to run in practice (which was done the Monday after qualy where he was given a 30min session to himself to complete the test).

          Also as @graham228221 mentioned Indycar will black flag drivers who are too slow at Indy. See the 2012 race where Simona De Silvestro and Jean Alesi were running with Lotus engines that were way off the pace and were black flagged after 10 laps for failing to run within 105% of the leader’s speed.

    2. @chimaera2003 There isn’t that much difference between the engines now when it comes to the ovals and it’s a spec chassis category so again that shouldn’t be a problem.

      There has been cases at Indy in the past back when they did have multiple chassis suppliers with bigger variances in engines and tyre competition where drivers were thrown into unfamiliar equipment with only a day or so of time in that car.

      In this case Graham should be fine as he knows the chassis given his experience with it in the series over the past decade, Should be able to quickly figure out the minor differences with the engine (Which will mainly be fuel consumption) with the biggest point of adjustment been working with a new team of people although again he’s worked for other teams in the past and the team have worked with other drivers so that shouldn’t take too long to get on top of.

      And he’s also been running around Indy for the past month so is more upto speed with everything and more race ready than some of the Indy one offs that have tuned up in the past.

      Someone mentioned Danny Ongais replacing Scott Brayton after Scott was killed in a crash during a post qualifying practice session in 1996. I don’t think Danny had driven an Indycar in almost a decade and I think he only had a brief refresher run of less than 20 laps (Due to rain washing out most of the final practice day) before starting the race and he ended up finishing 7th.

  4. If this is a movie I cannot wait for the end. What an emotional roller coaster for Rahal and his many fans.

  5. Interesting that Rahal’s teammate Katherine Legge caused the crash that created the opening for Graham.

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