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Confident Rahal Hoping To Double Up In Detroit

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 4 2017

Graham Rahal dominated at Belle Isle on Saturday. He will be back on that street course in his IndyCar on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Here’s guessing that Graham Rahal probably didn’t sleep great Saturday night either. It’s called anticipation…

Rahal led 55 of 70 laps around the Raceway at Belle Isle Park’s 2.35-mile/14-turn temporary street circuit Saturday afternoon en route to a dominating victory in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader.

The 28-year-old Ohioan crossed the finish line 6.1474-seconds ahead of Scott Dixon to become the seventh different driver to win in as many Verizon IndyCar Series races this season. Race 2 is scheduled for Sunday afternoon…and Graham can hardly wait to go green.

“Actually, I’ll be honest _ I didn’t sleep great (Friday) night because I knew that I was good enough for the first time in a long time,” said Rahal, who led a podium sweep for Honda in the backyard of corporate rival General Motors/Chevrolet. “The car, myself, everything was good enough here to legitimately be on-pole and to set the tone. That doesn’t happen all the time. You know, for us, it doesn’t happen that often.

“In fact, I can be honest and say I don’t know that I’ve ever felt that confident in my entire career going into a race day as we did today. I just felt like if everything went well, that we were going to be very hard to beat. And that proved to be true today.”

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Honda, collected the fifth win of his 11-year INDYCAR career. It was Rahal’s first win on a temporary street course since his inaugural Verizon IndyCar Series victory at St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2008, when he became the youngest winner in INDYCAR history at 19 years, 3 months, 2 days.

“Everything went according to plan today. We were pretty in control,” said Rahal, who

Graham Rahal and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team have found their way back to Victory Circle.

started from pole position after capturing the pole with a track-record lap in 1-minute, 13.9681-seconds/114.374 mph. That lap bettered the record of 1:14.0379-seconds set last year by reigning Series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske.

“We’ve shown some speed at times this year, but we haven’t had a lot of luck,” said Rahal, of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “Today, we had a combination of speed, the yellows didn’t come out at bad times for us and we certainly had the pace. Pretty pleased with that and hopefully (Sunday) we can do the same.”

Ironically, Graham scored the first street-course victory by the RLLR organization since co-owner/father Bobby Rahal won the inaugural Belle Isle race 25 years ago.

“It’s always wonderful to see your son win or your team win, frankly,” Bobby Rahal said as Graham led the podium celebration. “To lead 55 out of 70 laps, that’s pretty special. If you give Graham the car, he’s going to be tough to beat. I think we saw that today. I don’t think he could have driven any better, I don’t think a statement could be made any stronger. This was our race.”

Rahal led his first two laps (113-114) of the season en route to a 12th-place finish in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday. Prior to Saturday, his best finish in six 2017 starts was sixth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course on May 13. On Saturday, Graham handily held the lead with the exception of pit cycles, building a gap of more than 13 seconds at one point.

I’m very fortunate for the team around me,” said Rahal, referring to a group led by race strategist Ricardo Nault and engineer Eddie Jones. “First of all, I got to say thanks to my boys. The guys did a great job in the pits. All the engineers, all the guys that came up with this setup. As I said (Friday), we rolled off the truck and it was right there. So I’m definitely pleased with that because we changed one thing this weekend. That doesn’t normally happen. That’s why I felt like I just didn’t want to mess up today.

“I just felt like, you know, if everything went well, that we were going to be very hard to beat. I tried (to think) the entire race, ‘Just give yourself a gap.’ I never pushed a single lap to 100 percent on purpose. I just wanted to keep my margins, just hit my marks. The first 55 laps went quick. The last 15 seemed to take a decade. But it was a lot of fun out there.

“We were firing on all cylinders today. We were able to match whatever pace we needed to. We were able to run some blistering fast times while saving a ton of fuel. So thanks to Honda for that. I could certainly do the number that I needed to. We were very fortunate that the yellows weren’t poorly timed or anything like that. We were able to stay out front, to build the gap that we needed to and obviously run hard. It seems like we’re in a pretty good spot going into tomorrow. You would think that’s obvious after having just been on the front row and been on-pole. It’s not as obvious as you think.

“(Sunday) morning we’ll go out there, I can guarantee, being cooler temperatures, the potential of rain, everything else, it’s going to be a whole new day. Hopefully it’s ours again.”

Dixon persevered to finish second despite a painful left ankle, the result of his spectacular crash during last Sunday’s running of the Indianapolis 500. It was the 93rd career podium for the four-time series champion, breaking a tie with retired Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and friend Dario Franchitti for fifth all-time. It also was the native New Zealander’s 36th career second-place finish, moving Dixon within one of tying Bobby Rahal for third all-time.

“It was a tough race no matter what,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Camping World Honda, who reclaimed the championship point lead by two over Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. “Physically for me it was tougher than normal. I think I was favoring a lot of things, but just so proud of the whole Camping World crew. They did an amazing job. The car was fast. I probably couldn’t get the most out of it but we were kind of there. But it’s great for points.”

Dixon’s left ankle was placed in a walking boot Monday, and he attended the annual Indy 500 Awards Banquet that night accompanied by crutches.

I’m definitely going to go back to my RV here and put my foot in a big bucket of ice, and see if I can cool it off,” Dixon joked during a post-race interview. ”Hopefully get some good rest tonight and obviously qualifying (Sunday) is going to be key for the race. We’ve got to come out blazing. We’ve definitely got to improve the car; it’s not perfect right now.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe recovered from a spin on the opening lap to go off-strategy and finish third in the No. 5 Arrow Honda.

“Tires are the name of the game here,” Hinchcliffe said. “To be able to get off the (Firestone alternate) reds after the spin in the first turn there played to our advantage. Then we got that yellow at the right time right after our (Lap 25 pit) stop. It put us up where we belonged and I think we showed that the No. 5 Arrow car had a lot of pace. To come back from that; the boys were great in the pits and really happy to grab a podium here today.”

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden finished fourth to lead the Chevrolet contingent, while Alexander Rossi of Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian placed fifth, putting five different teams among the top five finishers for the first time in a race this season.

Reigning Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato finished eighth after a whirlwind, week-long victory tour that included a visit to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex to promote next Saturday night’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600 on Texas Motor Speedway’s repaved/re-profiled 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth.

“Tough day,” said Sato, driver of the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda. “We had a very strong qualifying in third and the start of the race we had a good, clean start. We were holding position. Although the top two cars were very strong. We were starting from behind and we were struggling for pace on the (Firestone) reds in the first stint. After the yellows when the field changed the tires, it looks like they had more speed, so the team decided to go to the short stint.

“In the end, it cost us a little bit in terms of strategy and having three stops was tough. But the boys did a good job. We need to gather the data now to make the car fast and hopefully we have an even stronger race (Sunday).”

Meanwhile, former Formula One regular Esteban Gutierrez started/finished 19th in his INDYCAR debut, and one-lap down to Rahal, for Dale Coyne Racing. Gutierrez was hired to substitute for Sebastien Bourdais, the four-time Champ Car champion recuperating from injuries suffered in a crash during qualifying for the Indy 500 on May 20. Gutierrez, of Mexico, spent a scoreless 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship season with Haas F1 Team during its inaugural campaign and currently is competing in Formula E.

“I’m very pleased and very grateful with the support I got from the team,” said Gutierrez, driver of the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda. “It’s been very important for me to get into a rhythm. Obviously, it was a very big challenge to throw ourselves into a weekend at Detroit. A very difficult track and not knowing the car. This race was basically to get the rhythm, to find the speed and to complete the 70 laps and that goal today was achieved.

“We’re going to look for more for (Sunday’s) race, but we’re taking it step-by-step. It was a good day and a positive one because I could find more speed, more pace. I was more comfortable and more consistent. I feel very grateful with how everything went today.”

The 22nd INDYCAR race at Belle Isle tied a record for fewest full-course cautions (two) and set a new standard for fewest caution laps (six). Rahal’s winning average speed of 103.015 mph also established a race record.

Qualifying for Race 2 at Belle Isle starts at 10:45 a.m. (EDT) Sunday and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Coverage of the second 70-lap race will begin at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

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Results Saturday of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Dual 1 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.35-mile/14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, aero kit/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Graham Rahal, Honda, 70, Running
2. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 70, Running
3. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 70, Running
4. (9) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 70, Running
5. (4) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 70, Running 
6. (20) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 70, Running
7. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 70, Running
8. (3) Takuma Sato, Honda, 70, Running
9. (21) Ed Jones, Honda, 70, Running
10. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 70, Running
11. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 70, Running
12. (13) Marco Andretti, Honda, 70, Running
13. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 70, Running
14. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 70, Running
15. (15) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 70, Running
16. (7) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 70, Running
17. (18) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 70, Running
18. (11) Will Power, Chevrolet, 69, Running
19. (19) Esteban Gutierrez, Honda, 69, Running 
20. (22) Oriol Servia, Honda, 69, Running
21. (10) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 69, Running
22. (16) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 25, Mechanical                                                                                    

Race Statistics 
Winner’s average speed: 103.015 mph
Time of Race: 1:35:48.7028
Margin of victory: 6.1474-seconds
Cautions: 2 for 6 laps
Lead changes: 6 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Rahal 1-23 
Aleshin 24 
Castroneves 25-35 
Rahal 36-47 
Hinchcliffe 48 
Dixon 49-50 
Rahal 51-70 

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 275, Castroneves 273, Sato 258, Pagenaud 248, Rossi 220, Newgarden 218, Jones 207, Hinchcliffe 206, Kanaan 203, Power 198. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, June 4 2017
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