Graham Rahal was in good spirits following Saturday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after finishing second in the GMR Grand Prix he could have won.
“Look, that’s life,” said Rahal, the driver of the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda. “Strategy has burned me before, and it’s helped me before.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s lead driver seemed in control of the 80-lap race until rookie Oliver Askew crashed in Turn 14 on Lap 36. That break in the action took away the advantage Rahal had on a two-stop strategy over Scott Dixon and other top contenders who had chosen a three-stop strategy.
Eight laps after the restart, Rahal’s race lead was swiped by a charging Dixon, who never looked back.
“I thought the strategy was honestly working perfect,” Rahal said. “Coming out of the pits on the first stop and still being right with (Will Power) and (Jack) Harvey and all the good guys – the guys I was racing with at that time – all I kept thinking was, when the pits cycle through for the last time we’ll have a 25- or 30-second lead.
“But obviously the yellow came out, and it kind of nullified our strategy because they got to pit under yellow with just one more (stop) to go.”
Dixon, who pitted for a second time just before Askew’s crash, beat Rahal to the finish line by 19.9469 seconds. Rahal lost most of that ground while using the black tires in the middle portion of the race, but he soldiered on, admitting that Dixon might have won regardless of the caution.
“Dixie was very fast today,” said Rahal, who led 18 laps. “Would we have won (without the caution)? We certainly would have had a buffer, but he was definitely quick.”
Rahal stands fifth in the standings heading to next weekend’s doubleheader at Road America, the scenic road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Saturday’s race will air at 5 p.m. (ET) on the NBC Sports Network. Sunday’s race is at 12:30 p.m. on NBC.
Racing through the field
Simon Pagenaud wasn’t the only driver who drove from the back to the front of the GMR Grand Prix field.
The 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time GMR Grand Prix winner started 20th and moved up to third, crediting Chevrolet for ‘phenomenal gains’ in the offseason.. The same could be said for rookie Rinus VeeKay, who took his Chevrolet-powered Ed Carpenter Racing entry to fifth after starting 18th.
“Definitely I think Chevy has done a phenomenal job over the winter of finding some horsepower. It definitely affected the race.
“I said it on the radio. We had an advantage on the straights, and it clearly showed with all the passing we could make, and we were passing people before even Turn 1.
“I’m very impressed with that.
But Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato could also draw “Driver of the Day” votes for his eventful day on track. The Japanese driver, who had never missed a start in his 10-year INDYCAR career prior to missing Texas, damaged his car on the opening lap, had to make an additional pit stop for emergency fuel service during the race’s only caution, and still rebounded with a 10th place finish after falling as far back as Xth.
“(Friday) we found an issue with the powertrain and lost over two-tenths of a second down the straight which was huge in qualifying which put us in the back,” Sato said. “Today I had suspension failure around Lap 1 probably. That’s why I went straight to the back. Then the yellow came at the time when we needed to pit, so I needed a splash of fuel. We had a difficult race but in the end we fought back from 26th place to finish 10th, which was good. With a damaged car, I think it was a great job by the team.”
Rossi slow out of the gate
Alexander Rossi will hope to right the ship this weekend at Road America, returning to the site of his dominant win in 2020.
The perennial NTT INDYCAR SERIES title contender is 23rd in the point standings after the first two races of the season, both of which featured mechanical woes on his Andretti Autosport Honda that have been outside of his control.
“We just lost power on that restart,” Rossi said. “We think it was the same fuel pressure issue that we had yesterday. We thought we had it resolved, but clearly, we didn’t. It was strange because it was fine until we went under yellow. It’s just unfortunate that we’ve had this kind of weekend two races in a row.”
The Californian led 54 of the 55 laps a year ago at Road America and hopes it can be the start of a turnaround for his season.
“We have four races in the next two weekends which will give us a chance to come back. We’re focusing on race wins and looking forward to welcoming fans back to the race next week at Road America.”
The REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR will be held July 11-12, at Road America with live coverage on NBCSN on July 11 and NBC on July 12. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.