Graham Rahal/No.14 Mi-Jack Honda came from a nineteenth starting position to win the action-packed racy MAVTV 500 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Auto Club Speedway. Also winners Saturday afternoon were the fans – at the track and at home watching on TV. They witnessed history being made, although it wasn’t without controversy.
The race had 14 leaders; the most-ever lead changes in IndyCar history and at Auto Club Speedway – 80; and 3173 passes. All this despite a red flag with a three-lap shootout and still ended up under caution on the last lap; six cautions for 46 laps/58.41 minutes in a 250-lap race. And the first caution didn’t come until Lap 136 for Helio Castronves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet spun while leading the most laps.
There were several driver crashes on course, including one spectacular flip, but no drivers were hurt. All the (noticeable) contacts brought out cautions, along with two for debris.
They were pack racing. Paul Tracy, the color analyst in the TV booth, said “Three and four abreast racing, one and two rows deep – it’s staged low altitude flying. Twenty-three fighter pilots in formation fighting for position.” And that was said before the cars were trying running five abreast. It was breathtaking.
This was Rahal’s second IndyCar victory, 124 starts after his first at St. Petersburg in 2008. Rahal has now run four races at Fontana. He led four times for 15 laps.
Rahal said “I didn’t think it (my victory) would come at a track like this. I knew yesterday the car was good. You don’t know how good this feels. I was definitely a little worried after that pit stop. I couldn’t be more honored and thankful for a group like this.”
Second was Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who led eleven times for 23 laps. He was quite outspoken afterwards about pack racing. “It was a crazy race and I’m just glad I’m OK. It was a great race for the fans. The people who criticize should try this – pack racing at 215 mph. There definitely is a fine line between pack racing and close racing. For us – people have to understand how stressful it is for us. I lost my best friend in exactly this way in 2011 (Dan Wheldon). If there were 100,000 fans we might want to race that way. To do this in front of 5,000 people is stupid. At Texas, there were no problems, but it was criticized for being a boring race. How can we make everyone happy? Maybe we can find a compromise over the course of this year the fans and the drivers. I have an opinion and I hope you respect that. It was a nerve-racking race, but I guess it was fun. Did I like it a lot – no. It was a heck of a race for the fans.”
AJ Foyt was asked about pack racing after his driver, Takuma Sato, crashed. “I loved racing like that when I did it. It just wasn’t our day.”
Third on the podium was Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Honda, after leading ten times for 31 laps, more laps led than the total of all his Auto Club laps led in his three prior start, including his 2012 pole. Andretti said about pack racing: “It was extremely dangerous but that’s what we signed up for. I think the fans got a good race. I mean, it’s fun. It’s definitely crasy, but it’s risk and reward. I mean, in my opinion, I think a good car should win the race, not one that’s just taking the biggest chance. And I’m not taking anything away from Graham, he drove a heck of a race But I’m sort of in the middle on it, maybe because I’m in the middle on age.”
Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet was fourth, which kept him from having a chance at the IndyCar Triple Crown. He led three times for five laps. He said “I thought it was a little stupid. Full pack racing and sooner or later someone’s going to get hurt. We don’t need to do that. Rahal drove a helluva race and he deserved to win. I have no opinion on (Rahal’s) refueling issues.”
Fifth and top Rookie was Sage Karam/No.8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet. He led twice for five laps – his first-ever IndyCar lead laps. Karam said “To be mixing it up at the front is so good”.
The other leaders were: Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske – 20 times for 62 laps, the most in the race; Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California – eight times for 43 laps; Takumo Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda – six times for 31 laps; Carlos Munoz/No.26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda – twice for 14 laps; Ryan Briscoe/No.5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda five times for seven laps; Scott Dixon/No.9 Degree Chevrolet – four times for seven laps; Pole Sitter Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet – once for five laps-he finished ninth; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda-who led his first laps this season – once for three laps; and Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CHR Chevrolet, once for a lap.
Sixteen of the twenty-three starters finished the race, with fourteen drivers on the lead lap, drivers finished the race, and there were seven retirements, all for contact. The race ran 2 hrs 57 mins 40.6179 secs under yellow after 250 laps.
Two drivers received Official Warnings – Tony Kanaan for Pit Entry and not holding is line and Graham Rahal for blocking.
Those who retired were: Castroneves, whose crew repaired his car in the garage and then retired after the car wasn’t running well; Carpenter and his teammate Josef Newgarden/No.67 Hartman Oil CHR Chevrolet, who hit each other; Power and Sato who hit each other; and the two Ryans, Briscoe and Hunter-Reay, who hit each other, bringing out the Red Flag to clean up the debris.
The Ryan’s crash was spectacular to watch, once it was learned drivers were all OK. Briscoe flipped up airborne, twisted and turned before landing. RHR faulted Montoya who pushed him up. Briscoe had no place to go. RHR said “I’m glad we’re both OK, glad Briscoe is alright.” Briscoe – “First I had to call my wife and tell her I’m OK. I’m glad everyone is OK. The racing has been close all day. I wish it didn’t happen. Not the way I wanted to go out. I just want to keep wishing Hinch a good recovery.”
Power was visibly furious after his crash with Sato. Power said “What are we doing. It was pack racing. It was Las Vegas again. I’m just glad no one’s hurt. Exciting as it is, it’s insane. You can’t get away and gain massive track position. We don’t need another Vegas incident. It’s just a matter of time.”
Carpenter faulted lack of sufficient spotter information regarding the closeness of Castroneves. Newgarden had no place to go. Carpenter’s car retired. Newgarden’s crew beavered away to get him back out for points, but he only got four more laps before retiring.
Only one drive-thru penalty was assessed – Briscoe for avoidable contact in the incident where he drifted up into Castroneves, causing him to crash.
Four drivers will face Post Race Reviews for Pit Safety Violations: Montoya, Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda, and the two Dale Coyne Racing Hondas of Pippa Mann/No.18 and Tristan Vautier/No.19. Oren Trower, inside inside front tire changer, was transported by ground for further evaluation of his lower extremities injuries. He had been hit by Vautier during a Pit Stop. This is the third DCR crew member to be hurt this season, the other two injured at the Indianapolis 500 in an incident involving all three of the DCR drivers pitting simultaneously.
No penalty was assessed to Rahal for leaving his pit box with the fuel filler hose still attached, spewing fuel out the car and landing the filler cap on the ground. Race Control left that matter for post-race review. At the time, the team was quoted as saying “Human error mistake. no one on team assessing blame on that one.” Afterwards, Rahal said “Obviously, a penalty would have killed us. You know, Phil, my fueler, he’s being pretty hard on himself right now. I think he was concerned that we didn’t get in all the fuel that we needed to, which we did, and unfortunately he tried to kind of jam it back in there. But yeah, we were definitely lucky with that one. Unlucky but lucky because I went out of pit lane, and I was like, the frigging thing won’t shift. I mean, I couldn’t figure out what it was. And then I looked in the mirror, and I was, like, you’v got to be kidding me, not again, and then luckily it wasn’t in all the way, so when I kind of moved the car back and forth, it finally popped out
“But, I got called for blocking, and I don’t know who else did, but you know, it’s — unfortunately right ow, I mean, we’re being told to give room and stuff, but nobody is, and yet there’s no penalties for it. When I was starting to get pushed around, I don’t feel like it’s right to be pushed around, so I just started to push back, and that’s the kind of way it goes.”
On pack racing, Rahal said “I think it’s racing. We have taken ourselves to a place over the last few years to where we’ve reduced the downforce so far that we couldn’t even race. I don’t think it needed to be as close as it was today. Some of those guys sit and say it was easy today should have beat me then, because it wasn’t easy for me. Yes, it was the closest racing we’ve seen in a long, long time, but it was very different than the old pack racing style where it was just flat and you place it where you want. You still had to pick the best spot I think today we were very fortunate to be in the position that we were in.”
“The wake of a Honda is different than the wake of a Chevy. Have to think of a lot of different things. Chevy puts out a bigger wake, so it’s harder to follow. Honda puts out a cleaner wake.” Rahal was definite in his answer that nothing should be done about it. “One doesn’t need to be a penalty to make them equal.
“Today was the closest racing we’ve seen in a long time. Today we were very fortunate. Very lucky after that race, as TK was faster than was I. TK’s got enough wins, he can share one.” It’s been seven years since Rahal’s last victory.
“It’s a big deal for us. Glad for my Dad (who was in Watkins Glen with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan BMW Team for the TUDOR race.) This feels good to win, for sure. It’s going to be fun tonight. We’re not a one-hit wonder. I don’t know if we can win it, but I think we can finish in the top five for points. We’re understaffed by a couple of people. No wind tunnel, only one shaker. We don’t have the resources others have.” “It’s ticked me off before watching other people win and how can they be so lucky. But I’ve already believed everything happens for a reason. And today was the day I got it. This is a big day for us. Honda has worked tirelessly for us to be in this place today. Honda hasn’t given up. They’re committed to making this thing better.”
Rookie Gabby Chaves/No.98 Bowers & Wilkins Curb Honda didn’t start with the field, joined after repairs and started last. He finished twentieth, the last car running, 13 laps down.
IndyCar’s Mark Robinson walked his 10K steps Saturday afternoon – back and forth to the Media Center Deadline Room to announce the various penalties, reviews, and stats.
UNOFFICIAL RACE RESULTS
1. (19) Graham Rahal, Honda, 250, Running
2. (6) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 250, Running
3. (3) Marco Andretti, Honda, 250, Running
4. (5) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 250, Running
5. (10) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 250, Running
6. (7) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 250, Running
7. (23) James Jakes, Honda, 250, Running
8. (13) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 250, Running
9. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 250, Running
10. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 250, Running
11. (11) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 250, Running
12. (21) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 250, Running
13. (22) Pippa Mann, Honda, 250, Running
14. (15) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 250, Running
15. (14) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 249, Contact
16. (16) Ryan Briscoe, Honda, 249, Contact
17. (20) Tristan Vautier, Honda, 246, Running
18. (9) Takuma Sato, Honda, 241, Contact
19. (8) Will Power, Chevrolet, 241, Contact
20. (18) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 237, Running
21. (12) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 161, Contact
22. (4) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 157, Contact
23. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 1
Takuma Sato AJ Foyt Enterprises Honda 33.0027s 218.164mph on lap 229
1. Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske 407pts
2. Will Power Team Penske 361pts
3. Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing 358pts
4. Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan 334pts
5. Helio Castroneves Team Penske 330pts
6. Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport 308pts
7. Sebastien Bourdais KV Racing Technology 290pts
8. Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing 285pts
9. Josef Newgarden CFH Racing 277pts
10. Simon Pagenaud Team Penske 256pts
11. Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing 248pts
12. Carlos Munoz Andretti Autosport 236pts
13. Takuma Sato AJ Foyt Enterprises 213pts
14. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport 210pts
15. James Jakes Schmidt Peterson 190pts
16. Gabby Chaves Bryan Herta Autosport 178pts
17. Jack Hawksworth AJ Foyt Enterprises 171pts
18. Luca Filippi CFH Racing 161pts
19. Stefano Coletti KV Racing Technology 140pts
20. James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson 129pts
21. Sage Karam Chip Ganassi Racing 126pts
22. Tristan Vautier Dale Coyne Racing 91pts
23. Conor Daly Dale Coyne Racing 81pts
24. Ryan Briscoe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 75pts
25. Simona de Silvestro Andretti Autosport 66pts
26. Sebastian Saavedra Chip Ganassi Racing 61pts
27. JR Hildebrand CFH Racing 57pts
28. Pippa Mann Dale Coyne Racing 46pts
29. Rodolfo Gonzalez Dale Coyne Racing 40pts
30. Francesco Dracone Dale Coyne Racing 38pts
31. Townsend Bell Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing 32pts
32. Carlos Huertas Dale Coyne Racing 31pts
33. Alex Tagliani AJ Foyt Enterprises 27pts
34. Ed Carpenter CFH Racing 27pts
35. Justin Wilson Andretti Autosport 25pts
36. Oriol Servia Rahal letterman Lanigan Racing 10pts
37. Bryan Clauson Jonathan Byrd’s Racing 10pts
38. James Davison Dale Coyne Racing 10pts
39. Buddy Lazier Lazier Partners Racing 0 pts