Rahal Sweeps Detroit Weekend

Graham Rahal sails into Turn 11 during Race 1 at Detroit
Photo: Chris Owens / INDYCAR

Sunday’s Race 2 of the 2017 Chevrolet Dual in Detroit had a different pole sitter but the same outcome for Graham Rahal as the American driver secured his sixth career Verizon IndyCar Series victory with a weekend sweep on Belle Isle.

Unlike Race 1, the opening lap of Sunday’s 70-lap contest was clean, with Sato easily slotting into the lead. Jostling throughout the field led to a blocking penalty for Alexander Rossi on Lap 2, however, after he impeded teammate Marco Andretti.

A group of drivers made early pit stops, including Oriol Servia, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti, Ed Jones and Spencer Pigot. Both Servia and Hinchcliffe were issued drive-through penalties for pit speed violations.

Contact between frontrunners Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay led to a flat tire for the Team Penske veteran and a damaged front wing for the DHL-sponsored Andretti Autosport driver. Castroneves stopped on Lap 10 for new tires and fuel while Hunter-Reay stopped on Lap 13 for a new wing.

By Lap 20, Takuma Sato led Rahal — who had moved around Hunter-Reay prior to his wing change — by 0.6 seconds. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin completed the top five.

Takuma Sato during Race 2 at Detroit's Belle Isle
Photo: Aaron Durant / The Apex

With the two-stop strategy pit window open, Pagenaud stopped on Lap 22 for Firestone Firehawk alternate tires and fuel. One lap later, Sato stopped from the lead along with Power and Aleshin. Rahal, running in second prior to Sato’s stop, assumed the race lead.

Staying out one lap longer than Sato, Rahal stopped on Lap 24 and managed to come out of the pits ahead of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 champion.

Josef Newgarden, the top driver executing a three-stop strategy, assumed the race lead on Lap 25, growing his gap to Rahal to 10.8 seconds on Lap 29. Newgarden gave up the lead at the end of Lap 29 to pit for tires and fuel along with Dixon with both drivers committed to stopping one more time.

Rahal officially reassumed the lead on Lap 30 with a 7.7-second gap to Sato. By Lap.40, Rahal’s advantage over the pole sitter grew to nearly 15 seconds.

On Lap 46, Pagenaud and Rossi pitted from the lead group. Rahal gave up the lead to Newgarden for the second time on Lap 47. Sato and Power also came in on the same lap.

The No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet of Newgarden reclaimed the race lead on Lap 48 though he stopped one lap later for his third and final service on pit lane. With Newgarden’s stop, Rahal moved back in front and on Lap 50, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver had an 18-second advantage over Newgarden.

Over the next 15 laps, Newgarden slowly chipped away at Rahal’s lead with the gap reduced to 15.1 seconds on Lap 55, 10 seconds on Lap 60 and 5.5 seconds on Lap 65.

The only full-course caution of the race came out on Lap 66 for James Hinchcliffe stopped on track. After the yellow flag was thrown, Pigot’s Chevrolet engine gave out, spewing a cloud of smoke and fluid onto the track.

Due to track cleanup requirements, INDYCAR elected to red flag the race at the conclusion of Lap 67. Because the race stopped with less than 15 laps to go, all cars not on the lead lap were moved to the rear of the field, setting up a two-lap shootout for the win.

While push-to-pass is not typically available on starts and restarts, INDYCAR determined that the additional horsepower would be available at the drop of the green flag with only two green-flag laps remaining in the race.

After an 18-minute red-flag period, cars rolled off pit lane under yellow-flag conditions with the green flag flying the next time by the start-finish line. Rahal, Newgarden, Power, Sato and Pagenaud comprised the top five at the race’s resumption.

Rahal maintained the lead on the restart and took the white flag with a one-second advantage over Newgarden, who was unable to keep up with the Honda at the front of the field.

Rahal crossed the finish line and took the checkered flag with a 1.2-second lead, sweeping the Detroit weekend for the first time in the race’s history as a doubleheader.

“It was just a good weekend — thanks to the crowd, thanks to Roger Penske, Bud Denker and everybody for putting this on,” said Rahal after his sweep. “It’s a tremendous event. And thank mother nature — we’ve never had this kind of luck around here.

“It’s a special day for us. We’re the first one to win the double (in Detroit) means a lot. It feels great, trust me. Any day you can beat a Penske driver it means a lot.”

Rahal, Newgarden and Power celebrate Detroit GP podium
Photo: Aaron Durant / The Apex

The victory is the 25th for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and marks the first time the team has earned consecutive victories since Kenny Bräck in 2001 at Twin Ring Motegi and the Milwaukee Mile.

Newgarden finished in second place with 1.4 seconds separating him and teammate Power in third. Sato and Pagenaud completed the top five at the checkers while Dixon, Rossi, Charlie Kimball, Castroneves and Tony Kanaan occupied positions six though 10.

Also sweeping Chevrolet’s home race was Honda with the Japanese manufacturer powering six of the top 10 cars.

Following the seventh and eighth rounds of the championship, Dixon holds the points lead with 303 with Castroneves eight points back in second. Sato sits in third with 292 points while Pagenaud and Newgarden occupy fourth and fifth with 278 and 259 points, respectively.

Next up for the series is 600 kilometers under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. Live television coverage of the race will begin at 8 p.m. EDT on NBCSN on Saturday, June 10 with the green flag expected at 8:45 p.m.

Comment here...