Southern California's High School Sports Blog

Rahal Wins Record-Setting Race

Team members give Graham Rahal the business after his victory in the MAVTV 500. Photo/Craig Takata

Team members give Graham Rahal the business after his victory in the MAVTV 500. Photo/Craig Takata

The two-mile oval Auto Club Speedway in Fontana was built for Indy cars, and on Saturday, it looked the part.

In a record-setting day in which there were 80 lead changes among 14 drivers, Graham Rahal scored the second Verizon IndyCar Series victory of his career in a fast and turbulent MAVTV 500.

The 80 passes broke the record 73 set in the 2001 race on the same track. By comparison, the Indianapolis 500 had 37 lead changes.

It was a banner day for second-generation drivers as Marco Andretti—another American—took the third position on the podium. Last year’s race winner, Tony Kanaan took second.

Championship leader and Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and American rookie Sage Karam trailed when a vicious crash on Lap 249 brought out the last of six caution periods – all in the last half of the race. It was Karam’s best finish of the season.

Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Scott Dixon, James Jakes, Charlie Kimball, Simon Pagenaud and Jack Hawksworth rounded out the top 10.

Team Penske teammate Will Power trails Montoya by 46 points in the championship, Dixon 49, Rahal 73 and Castroneves 77.

Ryan Briscoe's car dug up the infield after colliding with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo?Craig Takata

Ryan Briscoe’s car dug up the infield after colliding with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo?Craig Takata

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Honda, touched by Montoya, flashed in front of Briscoe to his inside as they battled for fourth. Briscoe, filling in for injured James Hinchchliffe, launched into the air and landed nose first into the grass infield and flipped. Both drivers were OK, but it was a flashpoint to driver complaints about pack racing and the death of Dan Wheldon in Las Vegas in 2011.

With no caution flags for the first 136 laps, the race was run at a frenetic pace. Sixty laps in, there were 11 drivers within 2.1 seconds of leader Takuma Sato. After two rounds of pit stops and 80 laps, there were 10 within 1.7 seconds as Will Power held the lead.

Power and Kanaan were particularly vocal about it. “I lost my best friend in exactly the same way in 2011,” Kanaan said. “To have 5,000 people out here is stupid.”

The race was sparsely attended, but those who showed up were treated to an extraordinary show as drivers passed each other for the lead. Through 90 laps the race average—including two rounds of pit stops—was 205 mph. The first caution didn’t come out until Lap 136 when Helio Castroneves was involved with Power and Briscoe, who received a controversial drive-through penalty for avoidable contact,

Yet Briscoe was able to eventually drive into the lead, as was Rahal, who started the race 19th out of 23 drivers. Briscoe gave up the lead to Rahal on Lap 241 out of 250.

Rahal’s last victory, at St. Petersburg in 2008, came in the second race of the unified series; he became the series’ youngest winner ever at 19. It was the first win for team owners Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan since Hunter-Reay won at Watkins Glen in 2008.

The win was the third of the season for Southern California-based Honda Performance Development in 11 races, the first on an oval and the first that wasn’t impacted by wet weather. Kanaan was the only Chevrolet on the podium. Honda had three of the top 7 finishers but would have done even better had Sato, Briscoe and Hunter-Reay survived the final 10 laps.

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“Our weakness has been ovals and I told my guys that these next three races will define our year,” said Rahal, who had gone 124 races without a victory. “It was nuts. I know there was a lot of close wheel-to-wheel action out there, probably closer than most drivers would like. I think the fans that did show up got a heck of a show.”

The race was red-flagged on Lap 245 out of 250 after Power and Takuma Sato crashed on the frontstretch. Power led a race-high 62 laps; Castroneves led the next most, 43. They finished 19th and 23rd.

Rahal, Briscoe and Kanaan were separated by about 12 inches inches at the time of the Power-Sato crash. Kanaan was coming, and likely would have taken the lead. Instead, it remained Rahal’s.

Coming out of the race stoppage to clear debris from Power and Sato, drivers ran two laps under yellow with a scheduled three-lap sprint to the finish line. Then came the spectacular crash with Briscoe and Hunter-Reay, and the race was Rahal’s.

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