Turning 59 years old today, Bobby Rahal was refreshingly different from many prospective American drivers trying to crack Formula 1: he had both an interest in road courses and a preparedness to go to Europe to compete against the best drivers in the world.
The only man who could give 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 destroying 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 claimed the championship crown again in 1987 and 1992. He raced until retirement in 1998, taking 24 wins from 246 starts.
Watch Bobby Rahal’s famous win at the 1986 Indianapolis 500
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-Lanigan team, while overseeing the promising motorsport career of his son, Graham.