Donated by: Robert “Bobby” Rahal
Words by: Jeremy Malcolm
Modern open-wheel racecars are hardly ever seen twice in the same configuration. Aerodynamic components, engine setup, gearing, and livery change from one race to the next. This is usually the result of changing needs between circuits, but improvements can also be made based on driver input or engineering research. As it sits at the Petersen, the 1998 Reynard 98i tells the story of one day and one specific race which took place Sunday, Nov. 1, 1998.
That day, at the Marlboro 500, racing legend Bobby Rahal lined up on the starting grid of a professional race for the final time. After two decades behind the wheel he would be moving on to full-time team management duties. Though he finished 11th, one would think he had crossed the line first based on the cheers and accolades given to him by the crowd and by fellow drivers.
In the nearly 20 years since his retirement, Rahal’s presence in the racing world has been a constant, albeit in a different capacity than when he was on track. He now manages a dealership group, a racing team, and sits on the board at the Petersen, where he generously gives his time and expertise to help further the museum’s goals. His generosity extends beyond advice, though, as he recently donated his last Indycar, the very Reynard 98i he drove on Nov. 1, 1998.
During the 1998 CART season, the 98i was by far the most popular chassis, earning Reynard the Constructors Cup- in some part due to Rahal’s efforts in this car. The Ford Cosworth engine that sits behind the driver’s head could propel the car to an astonishing 245 mph with the right aero setup while the grippy racing slicks held the car to the road, even through fast, sweeping turns.
The 875-horsepower beast now sits quietly, but its presence is no less intimidating standing still. The aggressive aerodynamics and a weathered racing patina paint a picture in the mind’s eye, taking museum visitors back to that final race. It stands today as a monument to a wonderful career and to the magnanimity of a racing legend.
As the elevator doors open on the second floor, visitors are greeted by the white and blue Miller Lite-sponsored car which sits just as it did that day at Fontana. The signatures of his entire team are scrawled across the side pods. As any visitor to the Petersen knows, a car is only as good as its story, and Bobby Rahal’s Reynard 98i most definitely has a story to tell. Next time you’re at the Petersen ask one of our staff what the car means to them or even strike up a conversation with a fellow enthusiast. The Reynard fulfills its purpose today as a social piece, encouraging education and fostering interest in museum visitors.