IndyCar

Friday favourite: The “open-minded” Indy champion who gave his team-mate an edge

When the Galles and Kraco Indycar teams merged for the 1990 season, it thrust two of the championships’s top driving talents into partnership.

Al Unser Jr had largely spent his open-wheel career with Galles and Doug Shierson’s teams driving as single-car operations – his only team-mates had been part-timers Pancho Carter and Tom Gloy in 1984 – and so it came as a culture shock to be working closely with then double champion Bobby Rahal.

However it was Rahal’s input that Unser believes was crucial in winning his first title in 1990 – making up for the disappointment of losing out to his late father Al Unser Sr by one point in 1985.

“Without Bobby being my team-mate and sharing that common goal to have the team win the championship, I know, I wouldn’t have won the championship that year,” says Unser, who went on to win a second crown upon switching to Team Penske in 1994.

“It was because of Bobby being my team-mate and being open-minded and helping the whole effort, is the reason why we won the championship that year.”

Unser cites Rahal was “the most unique” team-mate he worked with during a career that also yielded two Indianapolis 500 victories and says he was “the one who I was closest to”.

But Unser recalls it took him some time to be convinced of the merits of giving up his hard-earned secrets to Rahal, who had made his debut one year earlier in 1982 and won back-to-back titles in 1986 and 1987.

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“At first I didn’t want to share anything going on,” says Unser. “Finally it was Rick Galles who said, ‘You know Al, you could learn from him, it’s a two-way street there’.

Bobby Rahal today runs his own Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar team

Bobby Rahal today runs his own Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar team

Photo by: IndyCar

“Once that sunk in and I started truly believing it, in the races when I’m seeing him pulling away from me and running quicker and all that kind of stuff, I had to finally go, ‘We need to start working more together and I need to start sharing. Whatever I give is going to come back to me’.

“I pretty much learned my lesson at Indy. I tried to do my own way and my own set-up at Indy and Bobby clearly had the better set-up. It wasn’t going to happen again and so whenever I was a little bit slower than Bobby, I wanted his set-up on the car to feel it during practice and then go forward.

“Eight times out of 10, race day showed up and I was on his set-up! He was definitely a great race car driver.”

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Unser reckons Rahal’s willingness “to share for the betterment of the team” also had a beneficial impact when he joined Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy at Penske.

“It made me a better team-mate when I went to Roger, when I started driving with Penske and working with Emerson,” he adds.

Unser says Rahal had a huge part to play in his 1990 title-winning success

Unser says Rahal had a huge part to play in his 1990 title-winning success

Photo by: David Hutson / Motorsport Images

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