Archive for June 28, 2015

Photo by Chris Jones for IndyCar

Photo by Chris Jones for IndyCar

Fontana, California (June 27, 2015 — An Indy car record 80 lead changes among 14 drivers culminated in a dramatic victory for American Graham Rahal in the MAVTV 500 at the Auto Club Speedway. The victory was the second of the Rahal’s career and ended a 124-race winless drought dating back to 2008 in St. Petersburg – the longest gap between race wins for a driver in Indy car history.

The 80 lead changes during the 250-lap event surpassed the previous Indy car record of 73 set at Auto Club Speedway in November 2001.

Rahal, driving the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won under caution as the cars driven by Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact battling for position coming to the white flag. The final restart was set up after a red flag was displayed on Lap 245 of 250 on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval after contact between the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driven by Will Power and the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda of Takuma Sato on the frontstretch.

All drivers were checked at the infield medical center and cleared.

“Our weakness has been these ovals and I told the guys this morning that the next three races will define our year,” said Rahal, who qualified 19th. “It’s been so long coming. It’s awesome. I think the combination of downforce and tires made for multiple lanes of racing that was nerve-racking but exciting. (With) the width of this place, the guys were able to stay in their lanes. You don’t know how good this feels. 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.”

Rahal was 19 years, 93 days old when he won at St. Petersburg and is still the youngest Indy car winner.

“It feels good, and is a big day for us. It shows that our rebound this season is legit,” said Rahal, who moved into fourth place in the season standings. “The team is why all of this has come together. Hopefully I can move on from here and not make it seven years until I win again.”

Tony Kanaan finished second in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Marco Andretti placed third in the No. 27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda. 

Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth to extend his championship points lead to 46 over Power, and rookie Sage Karam earned his highest finish of fifth in his nine-race Verizon IndyCar Series career at the track where he wrapped up the 2013 Indy Lights championship.

Kanaan speaking about his race day:  “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 commented: “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.”

The first yellow came out on Lap 136 when the cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe made light contact on the backstretch. Five other caution periods followed, including two for debris. 

The final caution occurred with just two laps left when Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe collided sending Briscoe airborne, end-over-end before landing in the infield grass.

Much discussion following the race involved drivers, owners and crew chiefs lamenting the “pack-racing” that developed during the course of the 500 mile event. There are many contributors to the race scenario that played out in Fontana; new Aero-kits, lack of testing, the wide lanes of the two-mile Auto Club Speedway and some drivers taking extreme risks. Fortunately there were no major injuries, save for pit road injury to a Coyne Racing crewman.

Film Project Focusing on Indy 500 through Parnelli Jones‘ Eyes … 

The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is heralded as “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Seeing it through the eyes of a race legend provides an entirely new perspective and one that makers of the film “Behind the Indianapolis 500 with Parnelli Jones” believe will resonate with race fans everywhere. The film delves into the enduring relationship Jones has enjoyed with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for more than five decades. Jones, along with executive producers Annie and Mike Walker and Travis Knox, held an exclusive screening of the film’s “first rough cut” Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Guests at the screening included a pair of Jones’ peers and friends, Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford.

Never one to crave the spotlight, Jones thought “there was a little too much me” in the rough cut that intertwines his days as a driver and car owner with insights from his annual pilgrimage back to IMS each May. Jones’ saga with the Indy 500 began with his rookie season in 1961, included his dominant 1963 “500” victory, the near win in the 1967 Andy Granatelli turbine car and back-to-back triumphs as owner of Al Unser’s car in 1970-71. It brought back a lot of memories and stuff,” Jones said. “I think the whole picture is probably good for racing, anyway. I think people that see it could relate to where we come from. People don’t usually get to see how it all happens.”

Andretti, Bobby Unser and Rick Mears – all fellow Indy winners themselves – are among the many motorsports personalities who spoke to filmmakers about Jones’ legacy and the aura of the Indianapolis 500. Current plans call for a one-hour finished product that will be pitched to television networks for broadcast leading up to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 next May. “I’m hoping it will give a boost to the 100th and give people a little bit more awareness about how cool the speedway is and how cool the ‘500’ is and how much history is there,” Annie Walker said.

Photo by Richard Dowdy for IndyCar

Photo by Richard Dowdy for IndyCar

Of Note … 

Before the race, Kanaan was inducted into Auto Club Speedway’s Walk of Fame. Kanaan installed a brass plaque with his likeness and signed his name in the concrete. “My championships I won here in ’97 (Indy Lights) and 2004 (Verizon IndyCar Series), so I have good memories of this place and I love this place,” said Kanaan, who won the 2014 MAVTV 500. …

Dale Coyne Racing crewman Oren Trower was transported by ground to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center for further evaluation of lower extremity injuries sustained in a pit lane incident during the race. Trower is the inside-front tire changer on the No. 19 entry driven by Tristan Vautier.