Rahal-Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal ended a 124-race winless drought dating back to the 2008 Grand Prix of St Petersburg to earn his second IndyCar Series career victory at a crazy MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana.
An IndyCar racing-record 80 lead changes among 14 drivers was the precursor to a three-lap fight to the finish of the MAVTV 500 following a red flag.
The red flag was shown with five laps remaining on the two-mile superspeedway after contact between the Penske of reigning IndyCar Series champion Will Power and the #14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda of Takuma Sato on the front straight.
After exiting his car, a frustrated Power shoved an official who was trying to usher him towards the medical centre but later apologised personally and via Twitter.
Rahal, won under caution as the cars driven by Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact in a pack battling for position coming to the white flag causing Briscoe’s #5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda to flip and land on its wheels. All drivers were checked at the oval’s medical centre and cleared.
“You don’t know how good this feels. It’s been so long coming; it’s awesome,” said a relieved Rahal, who qualified a lowly 19th. “I feel like this year we have been knocking on the door a lot. We’ve been so close and I feel like we deserved it before but hadn’t gotten it yet so to get this one feels unbelievable. Our weakness has been these ovals and I told the guys this morning that the next three races will define our year.”
Tony Kanaan finished second in his number 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Marco Andretti rounded out the top three in his #27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth to extend his championship lead to 46 points over Power, and rookie Chip Ganassi Racing’s Sage Karam earned his highest finish of fifth in his eight-race career at the track where he won the Firestone Indy Lights championship in 2013.
The record for lead changes had been 73 in the 2001 edition of the same race – then won by the Newman-Haas Racing Lola Toyota of Cristiano da Matta.
“I was going four-wide and thinking, ‘Man, I haven’t been four wide in six or seven years.’ It makes you nervous, for sure. You trust the guys. When you’re running up front you’re hoping you’re with all the best guys. I was racing with Kanaan and (Scott) Dixon and Power, and then Hunter-Reay a lot, so to trust those around you helps a lot. It was a hairy racing.”
The first half of the 500 mile race was caution-free with 43 lead changes and heading for a record for all-time average speed. The first yellow came out on Lap 136 when the cars driven by Team Penske’s #3 of Hélio Castroneves and Briscoe made light contact on the backstretch. Five other cautions followed, including two for debris.
“The Verizon Chevy team did a great job today, despite how tough of a day it was,” said Power, who led a field-high 62 laps but finished 19th. “When you have a pack race like what we had today, you have to take a lot of risks to gain track position. As exciting as it is, it’s intense at the same time.”
Rahal was 19 years old when he won at St. Petersburg and is still the youngest IndyCar winner in history. After posting two top 10 finishes in 18 appearances in 2014, Rahal has five top five finishes through 11 races this season.
“It feels good and is a big day for us. It shows that our rebound this season is legit,” said Rahal, who jumped to fourth place in the standings. “The team is why all of this has come together. Hopefully I can move on from here and not make it seven years until I win again.”
The number 15 entry however faces a post-race review because of a lap 187 pit stop in which the gravity-fed fuel coupling was still attached to the car as Rahal sped away. It broke off on the back straight, forcing a caution for debris.
Montoya sits on top of the Drivers Championship with 407 points ahead of team-mate Power on 361; three points behind the Australian is Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on 358 points, ahead of MAVTV 500 winner Rahal who moves up to fourth on 334.
Round 12 of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series heads to ‘The Mile’ in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 on the legendary 1 mile oval.
|2015 IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 – Final Classification (250 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||250||2:57:40.6179|
|2.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing||250||+ 0.3157|
|3.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||250||+ 1.2490|
|4.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske||250||+ 2.1182|
|5.||Sage Karam||Chip Ganassi Racing||250||+ 2.9539|
|6.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||250||+ 3.6092|
|7.||James Jakes||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||250||+ 4.9846|
|8.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||250||+ 5.3595|
|9.||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||250||+ 7.4054|
|10.||Jack Hawksworth||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||250||+ 9.5128|
|11.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport||250||+ 11.6907|
|12.||Stefano Coletti||KV Racing Technology||250||+ 11.9206|
|13.||Pippa Mann||Dale Coyne Racing||250||+ 24.3450|
|14.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology||250||+ 25.1511|
|15.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||249||Collision|
|16.||Ryan Briscoe||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||249||Collision|
|17.||Tristan Vautier||Dale Coyne Racing||246||+ 4 laps|
|18.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||241||Collision|
|19.||Will Power||Team Penske||241||Collision|
|20.||Gabby Chaves||Bryan Herta Autosport||237||+ 13 laps|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||Josef Newgarden||CFH Racing||161||Collision|
|DNF.||Ed Carpenter||CFH Racing||157||Collision|
|DNF.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||136||Accident|
Image via IndyCar Series
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