Incredible. Spectacular. Insane. Those are just a few of the words to describe the action from Auto Club Speedway on Saturday. In a wild and frantic wheel-to-wheel race, Graham Rahal emerged victorious in Fontana, earning his second career IndyCar win. It had been 125 races since Rahal’s first career win, back on the streets of St Petersburg in 2008.
The race ended a lap early when Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe came together and went into the grass as the white flag came out. Briscoe got the worst of it as his car went airborne, then struck the grass nose-first. Both drivers were okay, thanks to the safety equipment in these cars. It was a scary scene, which looked unfortunately like just a matter of time. Last year’s winner, Tony Kanaan, finished second, earning his sixth career podium finish at Fontana. Marco Andretti grabbed another podium in what has been arguably his best season to date. It’s the first time that an Andretti and Rahal were on the podium together since 1996 (Molson Indy Vancouver, Michael Andretti 1st, Bobby Rahal 2nd).
Championship points leader Juan Montoya finished fourth, and Rookie Sage Karam earned his first ever top five finish. Scott Dixon, James Jakes, Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud, and Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top ten. All four Ganassi cars finished in the top eight.
There were several big-name drivers that had a terrible day. Already mentioned, Hunter-Reay and Briscoe finished 15th and 16th. Takuma Sato and Will Power finished 18th and 19th respectively after they tangled on lap 241. Power was visibly upset after getting out of his car, even pushed a member of the medical team who was trying to direct him on where to go.
CFH Racing teammates Josef Newgarden and Ed Carpenter finished 21st and 22nd after they came together in an odd sequence on lap 158. Carpenter lost the front of his car in the turn, and had no idea that Josef was on his outside. Both cars were out of the race. In the last three races, the two CFHR cars had DNFs at Texas, a 1-2 finish at Toronto, and now two more DNFs today. Carpenter still hasn’t even finished a race this year, with three DNFs (Indy, Texas, Fontana).
Finishing last on Saturday, was Helio Castroneves. He brought out the first caution, which didn’t come until lap 136 of the race. The Brazilian was pinched between the cars of Power and Briscoe, and was sent towards the inside wall of the backstretch. They tried to repair the car and get back out, but in the end the car wasn’t right. Briscoe was given a penalty for the incident.
As exciting and dramatic as the racing was, there were some questionable moments. Most of them actually involved the eventual race winner. Rahal had a problem with the fuel during a pit stop on lap 187. The fuel man made a mistake and put the fuel hose back in the car as the crew motioned for Graham to leave his pit stall. Despite a clear description in the rule book, IndyCar decided not to give him a drive through penalty. Instead, they will be getting a fine and penalty later next week. Graham was also warned for blocking at least twice during the race. Still, Rahal did what he had to do and won the race. The situation just seemed rather odd at the time, as the guys in the TV booth and the media members at the Speedway were perplexed as well.
The big discussion after the race was the topic of pack racing. We know that guys like Tim Cindric, Will Power, Tony Kanaan, and Juan Montoya are not fans of it. On the opposite side, guys like AJ Foyt, Marco Andretti, and Ed Carpenter don’t mind it. It’s a hot button topic right now, and it’s not difficult to tell who is on which side of the fence.
Looking at the championship standings with just five races remaining, Montoya added to his lead after today’s race. He now leads his Penske teammate Power by 46 points heading to Milwaukee. Dixon remains in third (-49) with Rahal moving up to fourth (-73) and Castroneves drops to fifth (-77). Montoya has had the lead in the championship the entire season, after his win at St Petersburg.
The next race on the 2015 schedule is the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee on July 12. NBC Sports Network will provide coverage for the event, which begins at 5 PM ET on Sunday.
Graham Rahal: “You don’t know how good this feels. It’s been so long coming; it’s awesome. Went we went back to 16th, I was definitely a little worried there. I knew my car was really good. It wasn’t the quickest up front. I struggled when I got to the front to be as fast as the Chevys, but those last couple of laps worked. I hung onto the bottom line. I’m just proud of these guys. The fans say, ‘Graham’s just driving different’ but it’s not me. It’s these guys right here that make things happen. I couldn’t be more honored and thankful to have a group like this. I feel like Steak ‘n Shake is kind of our good luck charm because they came on board and things turned around and D-A Lubricant as well. It’s great to bring them this result. I think 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 (Tony) Kanaan and (Scott) Dixon and (Will) Power, and then (Ryan) Hunter-Reay a lot, so to trust those around you helps a lot. It was a hairy race. 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.”
Tony Kanaan: That was one of the most nerve-racking races I’ve ever been a part of, but I can’t be too upset with a podium finish. We battled up front all day and the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet was really quick. I was actually in the middle of a pass when that last yellow came out, so who knows what could’ve happened if we would’ve stayed green until the end.”
Marco Andretti: “It’s definitely crazy; pack racing’s always like that. You’ve got guys that just don’t want to back off, guys going forward, guys going backward, inside, outside. I find it quite fun but it is extremely dangerous, but that’s what we sign up for. We put on a heck of a show for the fans, that’s for sure. We were pretty good but sort of shot ourselves in the foot there at the end. I shouldn’t have went low. I should’ve known Graham (Rahal) was going to do that. I had a full head of steam. If I would’ve went high, I think we could’ve won the race.”
Juan Montoya: “Honestly, I was not a fan of the racing we put on today. What I told INDYCAR yesterday was that we shouldn’t be racing like this. This is full pack racing and, sooner or later, somebody is going to get hurt. We don’t need to be doing this. It was a hell of a show and we did what we needed to do. We had a good PPG Chevy. When Will (Power) crashed and Helio (Castroneves) crashed, for me the only goal was to finish ahead of (Scott) Dixon and we did that. So it’s all good and everybody did a great job again.”
Sage Karam: “The first laps I have ever led in an Indy car today felt pretty good. It was pack racing, which is difficult. It’s a battle and you’re in survival mode. The team did awesome and we overcame some adversity and stuck with it. We took a chance to take tires at the end and it was a good call, as we picked up a few spots to finish fifth. I’m happy with the result and glad we got that result under our belt.”
Will Power: “The Verizon Chevy team did a great job today, despite how tough of a day it was. 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. I’m just glad that no one got hurt out there and that everybody is OK. Now we move onto Milwaukee, which I’m really looking forward to after how well we ran there in our win last year.”
Helio Castroneves: Unfortunately, (Graham) Rahal was coming up on me, and then kind of like, he really squeezed on me at the top. So as soon as I come into the position that I think I was going to, that I was about to push, I started lifting because I didn’t want to crash. I think we touched, and one lap before he was already squeezing me. And I’m like, ‘Dude, you don’t need to do that.’ So I’m kind of like lifting, and all of the sudden people are coming and start chopping, and (Ryan) Briscoe and Will (Power), all of the sudden, they just closed it up. Briscoe didn’t have to do that. He just turned into me and as soon as he turned into me I was like, ‘This is a tough one.’ I’ll tell you what, there was a long ride of sideways. The AAA Chevy was unbelievable. We had a fantastic car.”
Ryan Briscoe: “It was a really exciting race, to say the least. I had a really good car and was able to make the low line work. We passed a lot of guys down there so it was fun to be up front. Coming through the field a couple of times, it was awesome. I was really enjoying myself and I was able to be aggressive. With a lap to go, in our position, I had some momentum coming down the front stretch. I was going to take that low line into (Turns) 1 and 2, and felt like we were going to come home with a top three, for sure. Unfortunately, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay got turned around, I had nowhere to go and she went flying. Thankfully, I’m all right and no big deal. Now we look forward to the next one.”
James Jakes: “It was just a fun day, really. We started at the back and improved to seventh. I think we could’ve had a podium there, but it just didn’t quite work our way with the two stops towards the end. Obviously it was an unlucky one for the No. 5 car. They were having a great run as well and just got involved in an incident there. I think he’s OK, so that’s good. A big thanks to the No. 7 MAVTV MediaTech Oculus crew on this one. My pit stops were awesome, every time I came in the pits we beat the guys in front of us. It’s just good to get some points. We have strong oval cars and we’re looking forward to the next few races.”
Scott Dixon: “That was kind of a mess of a race. Everything depended on what kind of run you got. We had some front-end damage so we had to keep putting wing into it. We kept losing time on every stop, having to put wing into it. At the end we just had too much front understeer and couldn’t get the car drivable. I think the levels of downforce were too high and it needed to be spread out more. Could have been a different result for us in the Degree car if circumstances were different.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It was a very tough day for the Mistic KVSH Racing team. Every time we would begin to move up, we started to have overheating issues, so I had to come into the pits a few times to clean the radiators. The guys pulled a tear-off out once, but it kept happening. It was frustrating, for sure, but the Mistic boys hung tough. Everybody gave their best and I was trying hard behind the wheel and making some moves. Then we would have to give it all up because we were running too hot and had to pit. We will look at it and try and find some solutions. Maybe some blocking or screens. In the end, we managed to salvage some points, so that is a good thing.”
Takuma Sato: “It was a big shame we couldn’t finish the race. The No. 14 car was really strong and really fast. We had some situations where we had to come from the back twice and we did. The last 25 laps was a crazy race, three wide and sometimes four wide, which I enjoyed it myself. We were competitive and it was good racing, very exciting. But at the very end, (Will) Power was outside and then (Scott) Dixon was inside and I was in the middle and then all I could see was the two cars coming together with me in the middle. It was impossible to avoid and both sides of the car got touched and we didn’t finish the race. The ABC crew did a good job. And the car was tremendously fast, so I am very appreciative and proud of the entire team. I wish we had finished the race because it would have been a super result.”
Ed Carpenter: “I don’t even remember who I was racing with, it was getting so jumbled up there. Went into the bottom and thought I was going to be able to go to the third lane, someone shoved me to the second lane and I got understeer and started going up the track. I was just letting it go up the track because my spotter was telling me, he wasn’t saying anything, so I assumed I was clear and it doesn’t get much worse than taking out your teammate and crashing both team cars. It’s stupid. I should have lifted and left more room up there, but I didn’t even know anyone was even coming. I didn’t have the info. So pretty bummed out about it. We had a good car, ran up front all day and I would have been there at the end.”
Simon Pagenaud: “The car was fantastic. We had great Chevy power to help us on this big track. But I’ll be honest, I am not a fan of this kind of racing. We don’t need to run in a pack at over 220 mph. There is so much drafting in those cars, you get lucky if there is a hole. You slice through the hole and you push people out of the draft. It is just not safe racing. That is my personal opinion. The Penske Truck Rental car was good, but today you couldn’t tell who had the best car. It doesn’t matter when you race in a pack.”
Carlos Munoz: “Today was a really up-and-down race. The first half of the race we had a broken front wing, and then after we changed that, I was able to lead some laps. We got hit in the rear, and after that the car wasn’t the same. I struggled a lot the last two stints; it was a hard race, for sure. Now we’ll change our mindset and think about the short ovals.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I wasn’t expecting (Juan Pablo) Montoya to come up; he had a lane on the inside, and I was sitting next to … I’m not sure who it was, just waiting to go through Turn 1 and Montoya came right up. It’s tough – it was pack racing, it was crazy out there. I didn’t have anywhere to go (after getting hit), I’m just glad Ryan’s (Briscoe) OK – that was a nasty hit and it could have been a lot worse. One lap to go, figures we couldn’t make it to the finish. It was looking like a good finish for the No. 28 DHL team. We turned some things around and hopefully we can do it again at Milwaukee.”
Jack Hawksworth: “We finally got another top 10 after what seems like a long, long time. But really a good job from the ABC guys. It’s been a difficult few races but at least we got some points on the board. The race itself was quite long, we seemed to be good on old tires at the end of the stint, but on new tires at the start we weren’t quite quick enough. Overall the car was pretty decent and we just kind of hung in there and ended up finishing 10th so not too bad.”
Josef Newgarden: “I just ran out of room. I think Ed (Carpenter) was hearing one thing from his spotter, he just washed up into Lane 4, and you know, we ran into the wall. It’s unfortunate because you don’t want to have both cars out of the race. If it was just one of us it would be better, but we just got together with probably a little bit of miscommunication on what was going on. Everyone was using four lanes. It’s a lot of tight quarters, it was dicey racing so we just got together and kind of got caught out.”
Charlie Kimball: “Overall a good day for Chip Ganassi Racing having all four cars in the top eight. I think the Levemir FlexTouch Chevy ran pretty well. We just never quite got inside the top five where there was cleaner air. We need to go back and look at the data from our teammates and see where we go from here. I don’t know that we’ll see this type of track until we come back here next year, but I’m looking forward to heading to the oval challenges at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono.”
Race Photos via IndyCar