LONG BEACH, California — Graham Rahal acknowledged that he blocked Scott Dixon on the last lap of Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
But Rahal disagreed with INDYCAR Race Control’s postrace penalty that reversed the way they crossed the finish line (shown above) and cost him a first podium finish of the NTT IndyCar Series season.
“Did I block? Yes, I blocked; you’re allowed to block in this series,” Rahal said after Dixon was moved up to third place. “You’re allowed to make a move, (and) I made a move. That’s allowed, I mean, that’s allowed. I didn’t go back to the left; there’s a lane to the left. He had (push-to-pass remaining), I didn’t. If he wanted to go (left), he could go. But, I don’t know, we’ll discuss it with the officials.”
Rahal, who had exhausted all of his push-to-pass horsepower boosts and was finishing on worn tires, fended off two close calls with Dixon in the final stretch. Rahal locked up his tires on the No. 15 TOTAL Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing heading into Turn 8 on the 11-turn street course, the puffs of smoke giving the hard-charging Dixon an opportunity to pass on the last of 85 laps around the twisting street circuit.
Twice, Rahal and Dixon moved inside to the right. Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was unable to gain the position and had to back off after the front of his car made light contact with the rear of Rahal’s car.
Asked if he saw a replay of Rahal’s movements, Dixon didn’t need to. “I saw it first hand,” he said.
The five-time series champion thought the decision to penalize Rahal was justified.
“I think had he not defended or reacted the way he had done, we would have got past easily,” said Dixon, who was the one spraying champagne on the podium afterward. “It is what it is. We’re going to be OK with it. They’re not going to be happy with it, but that’s the way it is.”
Rahal uttered the same “it is what it is” phrase as he kept his cool but didn’t hide his disapproval with the ruling. INDYCAR officials are clear in the drivers’ meeting before every race that a blocking movement in reaction to the move of a trailing car is subject to penalty that includes relinquishing the position.
“It’s not that tough (of a pill) to swallow; we were going to lose the spot anyway,” Rahal said. “My front (tires) were absolutely gone. Those were used (Firestone alternate) reds. We should have gone to new (primary) blacks there at the end.
“But I moved right as quick as I could out of the corner (exiting Turn 8) and then I gave (Dixon) a lane. By the rules, you’re allowed to make your move, which I did on the exit of the corner. That was it.”
Rahal reiterated he wasn’t upset about the decision. The fourth-place effort duplicated his best result in four starts this season — he was also fourth at the Circuit of The Americas on March 24.
“At the end of the day, P4,” Rahal said. “Do we deserve P3? Probably, but you know what? It was a good day and good points for us. We haven’t had a lot of luck this season, so I’ll just take it as it is and move on.”
Rahal was coming off a race a week earlier at Barber Motorsports Park where he had high hopes after qualifying second, but encountered an early mechanical issue and ended up stopped on course and making an early exit.
He started Sunday’s race from sixth position, four spots behind Dixon, who was shuffled back in the order by a lengthy 18-second pit stop due to a fuel hose connection issue.
Rahal reminded that it was still a good day.
“Our car wasn’t great today, but it was decent and the TOTAL team pushed hard,” he said. “That’s all we can say.”
Dixon said he wasn’t concerned about this impacting his relationship with Rahal.
“I’m good friends with Graham,” Dixon said. “There’s no hard feelings there, but you still have to give everybody some space.”