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Bobby Rahal admits Indy 500 stress “took a real toll on me”

Three-time IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal says the drama surrounding his team at this year’s Indy 500 “took a real toll on me” in his recovery from heart surgery last year.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Bobby Rahal

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

The 70-year-old, who won the 1986 Indy 500 as a driver and the 2004 and 2020 races as a team owner, underwent triple bypass heart surgery last June after being told by doctors that he’d suffered a heart attack in May.

Speaking on Sunday after his driver Christian Lundgaard won the Toronto IndyCar race – the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team’s first win in the series since Takuma Sato’s 2020 Indy 500 triumph – Rahal said the poor performance of his squad at this year’s event and the following Detroit Grand Prix had a negative impact on him.

“I'm 70 years old, and the month of May took a real toll on me,” said Rahal, whose son Graham failed to qualify for the 500 in his team’s car. “I wasn't sleeping well at night. We're not here to fricking play around or to be part of it. We're here to win.

“A year ago in June, I had open heart surgery. This May, I mean, it knocked me back a few steps because I'm not here just to show up.

“I just said right after that, we're going to create and instil and initiate the Indy recovery plan, which we're in the process of doing, which is all about looking into why we performed so poorly and fixing those issues so that next May we're fighting for the pole, and that's our goal.”

Pole sitter Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, team owner Bobby Rahal

Pole sitter Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, team owner Bobby Rahal

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Rahal turned to his brains trust of longtime team manager Ricardo Nault, ex-Honda Performance Development executive Steve Eriksen and Stefano Sordo, the former McLaren and Red Bull F1 engineer to get things back on track.

That included an overhaul of its at-track team and involved some members of staff being let go.

“Indy kind of shook us to our core I think, but I have to say, frankly, the race that maybe had a bigger negative affect was Detroit because we were not good at all,” he added. “That's when we decided to make the changes that we made internally.

“I think we've seen the results of that change. We've had great events since then. There's I think a very good vibe within the team.

“Of course, this helps that immensely. Nothing like winning, right?”

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Bobby Rahal, Mike Lanigan

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Bobby Rahal, Mike Lanigan

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

The team’s oval form will be tested at Iowa this weekend, but Lundgaard is already eyeing the following races at Nashville and the Indianapolis road course – where he scored pole earlier this year – and suggests he could score multiple wins.

“Christian gets it,” added Rahal. “He is a young guy, but he understands. I think this win, all this does is as a driver the first time you win a big race it's like, ‘okay, wow, I can do that, and I can do it again.’

“This whole year Christian has been just a joy to work with because every day when you see Christian, you know you're going to get 100%, and that to me is what it's all about.”

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