Two of the USA’s most accomplished men motorsport, Bobby Rahal (58) and Eddie Cheever (53), are celebrating their birthdays today!
Bobby Rahal was refreshingly different from many prospective American drivers trying to crack Formula 1, in that he had both an interest in road courses and a preparedness to go to Europe to compare himself against the best drivers in the world.
The only man who could Gilles Villeneuve a run for his money in Formula Atlantic, Bobby ventured to Europe in the late 1970s for a succession of Formula 3 races under the management of Walter Wolf Racing. He impressed enough to be given a run in the team’s F1 operation in the closing North American races of 1978, finishing 12th at Watkins Glen and retiring from the Canadian GP, having been forced to use the original Wolf chassis (on loan from a museum!) after pranging the usual chassis during practice.
He returned to Europe in 1979 for Formula 2 competition, achieving some good results in uncompetitive machinery, but gave up his F1 dreams when he took up CanAm racing in 1980, which would lead to major success in endurance events, such as a win at the Daytona 24 Hours.
From 1982 onwards, he was a mainstay in the IndyCar racing scene, incredibly winning two races and finishing second overall in his debut season. He won the 1986 Indy 500 with a dramatic pass for the lead with two laps to run en route to winning the title, and taking the championship crown again in 1987 and 1992. He raced until retirement in 1998, taking 24 wins from 246 starts.
Rahal’s other feats have been in team management, and again reflecting his driving career, his stint in F1 management was equally short and unsuccessful.
Highly regarded for his management skills in the North American motorsport scene, he was hired by Jaguar Racing during the 2000 season. But the project dramatically failed to gel and he was fired after 18 months, although he almost pulled off a major coup when he nearly signed star designer Adrian Newey during the 2001 season (Newey would later defect to Red Bull Racing, which bought the team from Jaguar).
Rahal still maintains an involvement in the IndyCar scene as a part-owner in the Rahal –Letterman team, while overseeing the promising motorsport career of his son, Graham.
The popular but highly-strung Eddie Cheever first entered motorsport via karting in Italy, where he was raised despite being born in Phoenix.
After a hugely impressive showing in Formula 3 and Formula 2, Eddie caught the eye of Ferrari, who offered him a contract and then signed Gilles Villeneuve. So Eddie joined forced with Theodore, quitting the team after two failed attempts to make the grid, before finally doing so with Hesketh in a one-off outing in 1978.
Two more seasons in Formula 2 saw his stock fall and then improve, and it was when the Osella team took the punt on joining Formula 1 that they took him with them. It was a frustrating season spent accruing DNFs and struggling to qualify at the back of the grid.
He joined Tyrrell in 1981 and peaked with fourth place at the British Grand Prix, before jumping ship to the Talbot Ligier outfit in 1982, where his car hung together long enough for him to take a find second at Detroit.
The next year saw his biggest break with a seat alongside Alain Prost at Renault, achieving two more podiums at France and Canada, but generally the flashes of brilliance were mixed with mediocrity and he was off to the unreliable Alfa Romeo in 1984. Always flamboyant behind the wheel, he rarely paid attention to the fuel gauge or the turbo pressure, which often resulted in some spectacular retirements.
Out of a drive for 1986 – save for a one-off appearance in place of the injured Patrick Tambay at Lola, he drove for TWR in sports cars and returned to F1 in 1987 with Arrows, where he stayed for three seasons, achieving some excellent results in a midfield car before the curtain was brought down on a 132-race career, which yielded just 70 points and not a single lap in the lead.
Off to IndyCars, Eddie performed well and won the Indy 500 in 1998 from 17th on the grid. He now works in team management.
Click here to view Eddie Cheever’s complete F1 results.