How Graham Rahal Got Back in This Year’s Indy 500 Field

graham rahal 15 of united states and rahal letterman
Bad Break Puts Graham Rahal Back in Indy 500 FieldSOPA Images - Getty Images
  • The biggest hurdle in the deal might very well have been the unusual cooperation between Chevrolet and Honda.

  • Rahal is a Honda driver, and he will be driving for Chevrolet with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports in the 500.

  • Wilson suffered a fractured vertebrae Monday in Indy 500 practice when his car was struck from behind by Katherine Legge’s RLL machine.

After failing to qualify on Bump Day, Graham Rahal is back in the Indianapolis 500.

In a surprising move of unprecedented cooperation between teams and manufacturers, Rahal was named Tuesday morning to replace the injured Stefan Wilson in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing/Cusick Motorsports/CareKeepers Chevrolet-powered ride in Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500.


“I knew the hurdles were going to be massive,” Graham Rahal said. “This wasn’t as easy as saying ‘yes.’ I can’t believe this happened, that Honda and Chevy allowed this to happen. We’re so appreciative of that.”

auto may 22 indycar series the 107th indianapolis 500
Stefan Wilson was injured in a crash in practice on Monday and won’t be able to compete in this year’s Indianapolis 500.Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

He then added matter of factly, “My whole goal is to win this race.”

The younger Rahal, son of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing majority owner Bobby Rahal, has spent his entire IndyCar career in a Honda-powered ride.

“I’m so grateful for Chevy and equally so Honda for allowing me to do this,” Rahal said. “When Dennis (Reinbold) called me, I said I wasn’t sure I wanted to waste his time. I’ve spent my entire career in a Honda and never driven anything other than that. I’m not really sure we’ll be able to get the releases in place to make this happen.”

But both manufacturers agreed to waive standard protocol for the younger Rahal, who was both surprised and humbled.

“Graham was the first choice,” Reinbold said. “It was just so sudden, there wasn’t a lot of time to think. Once we found out Stefan couldn’t be cleared to run, there was a short list because a lot of guys were not approved.”

Bobby Rahal, majority team owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, issued the following statement about the unusual synergy:

“First, I feel bad for Stefan that he is hurt. I’m sure he was very excited after qualifying for the race and had done a great job all month. It’s a real shame that this happened. I wish him the best and hope he has a speedy recovery. I’m sure we will see him again.

driver stefan wilson 24 car is brought to his garage after
Stefan Wilson’s car is carried back to the garage after Monday’s incident.SOPA Images - Getty Images

“I have to say this came out of the blue. I’ve known Dennis (Reinbold) for years personally. I have always liked and respected him as a fellow racer and also a car dealer. When Dennis called, we went to work to make this happen. The most amazing thing is how all these different groups, out of respect for the sport and the Indy 500, agreed to agree and go forward even though it may have been somewhat of a difficult decision.

“The fact that everyone pulled together to make this happen for Dennis, and also for Graham, makes us very thankful. I am also thankful that Dennis asked Graham to join him and his team and appreciate the commitment and excitement from Mike, Dave, United Rentals and Fifth Third Bank to see this happen. We wish them the best in the race.”

In what will likely be a strange scenerio, the younger Rahal will have zero involvement or communication with RLL during the course of the race.

“Our focus and attention is completely dedicated to Dreyer Reinbold and to do the best we can in the No. 24 car,” Graham Rahal said. “At the end of the day, we’re competing now.

“In motorsports, things can change immediately. That’s the reality of the situation. We’re going to do our best to get to victory lane, and that’s been a dream my entire life and I think we have a great opportunity to do that. I’m excited for that.”

Wilson suffered a fractured vertebrae Monday in Indy 500 practice when his car was struck from behind by Katherine Legge’s RLL machine and forced into the outside safer barrier in turn one. Wilson was medically ruled out of the race Monday during an examination.

auto may 21 indycar series the 107th indianapolis 500
Bobby RahalIcon Sportswire - Getty Images

Wilson had qualified 25th. Rahal, who failed to qualify for his 16th Indy 500 in his own RLL car, will start Sunday’s race at the back of the 33-car field due to the driver replacement.

“This is Steff’s ride, it’s his seat,” Rahal said. “He’s done a great job to get it to the point where it is and it was an honor for me to receive the call. I’m certainly very grateful.

“I felt every emotion over the last couple days. But as I’ve always said, that’s Indy. It can put you through a vicious cycle and you never know what’s going to happen, how it’s going to take place.

“We don’t know how it’s going to end up in five, six days time. But when an opportunity like this comes, you’re honored to get the call. I’m not going to lie, I felt excited that another team had the respect for me to call, and it was a great opportunity to come out here and perform and race on Sunday.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter