JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 2 - Robby McGehee and the Cahill Racing team chased all sorts of demons during the Indy Racing Northern Light Series' first visit to Chicagoland Speedway. They advanced from 16th starting spot into the top 10 during the...
JOLIET, Ill., Sept. 2 - Robby McGehee and the Cahill Racing team chased all sorts of demons during the Indy Racing Northern Light Series' first visit to Chicagoland Speedway. They advanced from 16th starting spot into the top 10 during the first half of Sunday's Delphi Indy 300, but just past the halfway point they developed a major problem with the Parallaxmusic.com/Dollar Rent a Car Dallara/Aurora/Firestone #10. McGehee had one close call, and when the problem couldn't be diagnosed in the pits let alone solved, team owner Larry Cahill wisely told the team to call it a day.
McGehee ended up 20th in the final rundown, retiring with 108 laps complete in the 200-lap event on Chicagoland's 1.5-mile tri-oval. Later, back in the garage area, the team found that the car's steering arm had cracked and almost broken in two.
Jaques Lazier won the race. Sam Hornish Jr. finished second to earn enough points to sew up the Northern Light Cup even prior to the season finale, the Chevy 500 Sept. 16 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sunday's race was broadcast live on ABC.
"We went from 16th to run in the top 10 there for awhile, but then I felt something pop and we almost crashed big-time," McGehee said immediately after climbing out of the car. "The car just wouldn't turn. Whatever broke isn't obvious from the pits, but it's so bad from the cockpit that we just had to stop. I still don't know how we didn't crash. It was really scary.
"At first I thought maybe we had a flat tire, but when we brought it in the Firestone Firehawks were fine. It had to be something in the suspension or steering, but we just don't know what yet.
"The Cahill Racing team really worked hard this weekend, and it's a real shame that we couldn't finish. We had overcome our problems from Friday and Saturday and the Parallaxmusic.com car was great early in the race. Our pit stops were great, too. It's a real shame for everybody."
The team struggled to find the speed it needed during practice and qualifying, but by Sunday morning's practice session McGehee was eighth-fastest. The competition was so tight that only 1.2392 seconds separated the field in MBNA qualifications Saturday afternoon, and only .9026 of a second separated them in the final practice session Sunday morning.
McGehee got off to a terrific start, passing Rick Treadway on lap one and Shigeaki Hattori on lap two to move into 14th position. He had a nice battle with Al Unser Jr. and then Laurent Redon, and by lap 15 he was 12th. He then raced side-by-side with Billy Boat, and when the pits opened under the first yellow for Scott Sharp's lap 30-accident in turn two, McGehee was in 11th place. He got four fresh Firestone Firehawks and fuel on that stop, but he asked for no adjustments, describing the car as "awesome."
The Cahill Racing team's fast pit stop earned another spot, so McGehee was in tenth when the race restarted on lap 39. Beechler passed him shortly thereafter and Eliseo Salazar wiggled by a few laps later, so by the one-quarter mark McGehee was 12th.
The leader, who at the time was Robbie Buhl, pitted on lap 87 in the pit stall directly beside the Cahill team. McGehee made his second stop on the same lap for four fresh Firestones and fuel. McGehee got shuffled back to 13th during that stop, but less than 10 laps later he was back to 11th.
Then the trouble cropped up. McGehee radioed that something was definitely wrong with the car around lap 100, which he competed while in 13th place. "Something is broken or a tire is flat or something; I'm coming in," he said. "Something just isn't right; I can't turn the car."
McGehee pitted on lap 104 for the Cahill team to inspect the tires, but nothing seemed to be amiss there. He pitted again on lap 110, topping the fuel cell to boot, but again, nothing could be found on pit lane. He went back out on lap 114, but on lap 117 the steering arm was definitely cracked, he had a really close call in turn two, and the team called it a day.
"I don't know how I didn't crash," McGehee said. "I got totally sideways. Somebody was outside of me and I felt something pop, and the car just went straight. It was really hairy."
Even after the checkered flag had waved, McGehee still didn't know who he had the close call with. He thought it was Rick Treadway, and although Treadway said he had several close calls, he didn't think it was him.
Richie Hearn was the next most-likely candidate because his car is painted in similar colors and he was running with McGehee at that point, but he said it wasn't him either. He said it happened right in front of him, and he thought it might have been Didier Andre. Andre said it wasn't him either. Whoever it was, both he and McGehee can be glad that close call was just an incident rather than an accident.