For the first time since Scott Dixon did it at Toronto in 2013, Graham Rahal sweeps a Verizon IndyCar Series double-header race weekend. Rahal started in P3 in spite of setting the second fastest qualifying time. After the two morning qualifying sessions were completed, INDYCAR officials decided to interleave the starting positions of the two groups with Group 1, the slower of the two, taking the even-numbered positions and Group 2 taking the odd-numbered positions. This decision was made because of the compromised Group 1 qualifying session as a result of Munoz’s contact with the wall bring out a red flag. We will definitely discuss the merits of this decision on this week’s episode of FBC indi.
Street courses are famous for Lap 1, Turn 1 carnage, but all 22 drivers made it through Lap 1 cleanly even with a lot of slicing and dicing happening in the mid-pack. Pole sitter Takuma Sato launched out to the early lead, building a gap between him and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay. A number of drivers came in to pit within the first ten laps including J.R. Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Ed Jones, Spencer Pigot, and Oriol Servia. Those pitting early were gambling on some yellows to make a three-stop strategy pay off, but the entire race ran clean and green until the dwindling laps making the two-stop strategy the better option, as it was on Saturday.
The racing in the mid-pack was exciting at times, with some excellent passes and repasses being executed, and at times a bit of contact damaging a wing or puncturing a wheel, but up front, there wasn’t much on-track drama. The big changes came during the pit-stop exchanges. In and out laps were critical and they’re what made the difference between winning and losing. Sato was first of the leaders to pit on Lap 24 and received service in 8.7 sec. Power’s Team Penske crew was able to best the Andretti Autosport stop by half a second giving the Australian fuel and four prime black-walled tires in 8.2 sec. It was close, but Sato made it out of the pits a nose ahead of Power.
While Power and Sato were racing in the pits, Graham Rahal took advantage of the clear track in front of him and laid down a blistering in-lap which was backed up by a lightning quick 7.7 sec pit stop. The result was that Rahal easily cleared Power and Sato, assuming the race lead and never looking back. Rahal’s out lap was also incredibly quick, and he started to put a gap on Sato at a race of a second a lap.
Although Helio Castroneves had to pit for a flat left rear tire after contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay on Lap 10, his Team Penske teammates surged from their lack-luster starting positions to run in P3, P4 and P5. As resurgent as the Penske Chevrolet machines were, they had nothing for Rahal as by Lap 36 the Ohioan had extended his lead to 13 seconds. It looked like Sunday’s race was going to be a carbon copy of Saturday’s. After the leaders made their final pit stops on Lap 47, it certainly looked like Rahal had the race in the bag.
Josef Newgarden was the only driver in the final stint that had anything for Rahal, and although he started out a dozen seconds back, he was gaining on the order of a second per lap. At the pace of one second per lap, Newgarden would have just enough time to find Rahal’s gearbox by the final lap, but of course catching is not the same as passing. Regardless, it was shaping up to be an exciting finish.
The entire dynamic of the end of the race changed on Lap 62 as Ed Jones spun in Turn 7. Fortunately, he was off track and even though his car could not be restarted, the safety crew was able to pull his dead race car back behind the safety barriers needing only a local yellow. On Lap 65, the only Honda engine failure of the weekend happened as James Hinchcliffe came to a sudden and shuddering stop. This brought out a full-course caution. The hope was to pull Hinchcliffe’s car out of the way quickly and resume green-flag racing for a two-lap shootout, but then the turbo on Spencer Pigot’s Chevrolet motor erupted in a giant plume of oil smoke. Fearful of fluid on the racing line, INDYCAR officials chose to red flag the race on Lap 67.
The red flag caused Rahal’s multi-second lead to instantly evaporate and place a hungry Josef Newgarden right on his rear. The hope for officials and many fans was to have an exciting green-white-checkered finish, but of course Rahal wanted nothing of the sort. On cold tires, and a marble-strewn track, Rahal executed a textbook-perfect restart and immediately started to pull away from Newgarden. In the final two laps, the front runners ran in place and finished where they had started after the red flag.
With the “Dual at Detroit” in the rear view mirror, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to oval racing next weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway. This is typically an exciting oval race owing to the track offering multiple racing lines and blazing speeds. Look for Marco Andretti to give a clinic on using the high line. Practice and qualifying are on Friday starting at 11:00am EDT on IndyCar’s various live streaming outlets. NBC Sports coverage begins on Saturday with a broadcast airing of Friday’s qualifying at 7:00pm and the live broadcast of the Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at 8:00pm EDT.
Official Race Results
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