IndyCar 2017 – Rahal Doubles Up In Detroit Masterclass

Henry Kelsall

Graham Rahal made it seven winners out of seven races in IndyCar 2017 after he blitzed the field to win the first race of the ‘Duel in Detroit’ doubleheader at Belle Isle and then did the same again in race two, dominating the opposition to leapfrog himself into the thick of the championship fight

Saturday – Race One

Rahal started race one from pole position after Penske driver Helio Castroneves pole lap was cancelled due to a yellow flag infringement, the Brazilian and Indy 500 runner up starting from second on the grid. He and Rahal broke away from the pack at the start of the race which was lead by Takuma Sato in P3. Castroneves became the first of the frontrunners to pit and he did so on lap 12 as the Penske team committed to a three stop strategy. Rahal stayed out much longer and Castroneves took the lead after the American’s first stop.

“Everything went according to plan today. Yesterday, one of my comments was that I felt if I could qualify up front, I could dominate this race. I got a lot of heat by the other drivers for that comment, but I think we did it.”

Graham Rahal

“It was a tough race no matter what. 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.”

Scott Dixon

A caution lap 27 for the A.J Foyt car of Connor Daly and Ganassi machine of Charlie Kimball just after Rahal’s stop massively hampered Castroneves chances of winning the race. After Castroneves made his second stop, Rahal took over the race lead and pulled out enough of the gap to make his second and last stop that he emerged from said stop in front of the Penske. From there, he was unchallenged and took what was an absolute masterclass victory and his first since the thrilling Texas 600 last year.

 

 

“Tires are the name of the game here. To be able to get off the reds after the spin played to our advantage. Then we got a yellow at the right time right after our stop. It put us up where we belonged, and I think we showed that the #5 Arrow car had a lot of pace. To come back from that, the SPM boys were great in the pits and I’m really happy to grab a podium here today.”

James Hinchcliffe

Scott Dixon suffered a huge crash in last week’s Indy 500 but put on a brilliant performance in Detroit to take P2 in the race. Despite his ankle suffering from the crash, smart strategy from Ganassi and classy driving by the Kiwi meant he claimed the runner up spot in the race and took the championship lead as well. P3 for most of the race was Sato but his strategy unfolded and instead the final spot on the podium went to James Hinchcliffe. Despite spinning and stalling at the start, he was able to catch the field thanks to his own caution and savvy driving; it was strategy, like with Dixon, that brought him back onto the podium for the first time since he won in Long Beach. Hinch’s drive really embraced the never say die attitude.

Castroneves strategy failed to pay off and he ultimately finished in 8th place. Esteban Gutierrez, making his IndyCar debut in place of Sebastien Bourdais at Dale Coyne, had a solid run to 19th and looks set to be in the #18 for the rest of the year.

Full race results courtesy of indycar.com

Sunday – Race Two

Sunday saw Rahal line up in P3 with an all Andretti front row, Sato taking his first pole position since the same race back in 2014–and he headed teammate Hunter-Reay. The pair probably hoped to stop Rahal’s domination but being just behind them meant he was a big threat. But he had lost none of his Saturday pace and made short work of Hunter-Reay on lap 9 to pass the Andretti driver around the outside at turn 7 as Sato continued to lead. Rahal’s team again opted for a two stop strategy and they came in on lap 27, one lap after Sato and he took over at the front of the field from the Indy 500 winner. Only three stopping Newgarden was in front of Rahal and when the Penske driver pitted, Rahal had a 16 second lead over the opposition.

Hunter-Reay’s race unravelled early on as he battled for third with Castroneves. Helio attempted a pass on the Andretti driver but Hunter-Reay tagged his left rear, causing a puncture for Castroneves and front-wing damage to his own car. Both had to pit and both dropped out of contention for the podium and victory. More contact later in the race between Ed Jones and J.R Hildebrand saw the latter suffer a puncture and the former front wing damage. Both pitted and rejoined the race but Jones retired from the race later on with less than ten laps to go, a far cry from his stunning Indy 500 weekend.

“Three (pit) stops, running fast and the yellows worked out a lot better for us today. I think that second-to-last stint we lost too much ground when we got stuck behind Simon (Pagenaud) and Will (Power). We couldn’t clear those guys and I think if we could have cleared them we could have had a better shot at Rahal.”

Josef Newgarden

As the race wore on and the last stops were made, Rahal looked in control. But when he got stuck behind Hunter-Reay, Newgarden made massive inroads as his three stop strategy paid dividends. He caught Rahal at over a second a lap before he got past Hunter-Reay. But just after that, stoppages for Hinchcliffe and a dramatic turbo failure for Spencer Pigot brought out the red flag with just three laps left in the race. This set up a two lap showdown until the end between Rahal, Newgarden and third placed Will Power. Sato was just about in contention in a solid 4th place.

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

Graham Rahal

The restart was somewhat climatic as Rahal pulled out a gap on Newgarden to take both wins at Detroit, the first driver to do the double in Detroit and the first driver to win both races on a doubleheader weekend since Scott Dixon in Toronto 2013. The result leapfrogs Rahal into 5th in the overall standings and just over 50 points behind leader Dixon. After a tough start to the year and a lost opportunity at the Indy 500, Rahal and his team bounced back brilliantly in Belle Isle. He will be one to watch for the rest of the year.

Full race results courtesy of indycar.com