Graham Rahal gave his Verizon IndyCar Series title hopes a massive boost with an opportunist victory at Mid-Ohio, closing the gap significantly to Juan Pablo Montoya.
Rahal scored a famous win at his home circuit thanks to a fortuitously-timed final pitstop, which worked perfectly for him but against points leader Montoya – who had been running right behind him. Montoya could only finish 12th, which trimmed his points lead over Rahal to 9 points with two rounds remaining.
Story of the race
From pole position at a scrappy rolling start, Scott Dixon led third-fastest qualifier Sebastien Bourdais on the run to Turn 1, who had outdragged Will Power from the green. Bourdais tried a brave outside lunge at the first corner, but Dixon held firm.
Power dropped back to fifth, after compounding his poor getaway with sliding wide through the opening corners, behind Penske teammate Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden. Charlie Kimball touched an aggressive Luca Filippi, who charged up from ninth on the grid, on the opening lap in a battle for sixth.
Power lost more time when he went off at Turn 7 and just clipped Kimball’s left-rear as he rejoined, sending Kimball spinning off at the following corner to herald the race’s first full-course yellow.
A messy restart cost Newgarden positions, while Filippi leapt from sixth to third before Castroneves just managed to grab his third place back. Ryan Hunter-Reay moved up to fifth, ahead of Power and Newgarden.
Dixon stretched his lead with ease up front, as it became clear the only way to challenge him was to change strategy. Newgarden was the first of the leaders to stop on lap 17, but lost a wheelnut on his left-right corner.
Race gets turned on its head
The race’s complexion was turned upside-down as the top eight hadn’t pitted before Takuma Sato clashed with Stefano Coletti at Turn 7, which caused the day’s second full course yellow. The big beneficiaries were title contenders Montoya and Rahal, who had pitted early and were promoted to second and third respectively, behind new leader Tristan Vautier, who had pitted as early as lap four.
Rahal, who came into the weekend second in points, started way down on row seven. From 13th, he gained one place at the start and another when Kimball spun off, but he became embroiled in an early scrap with Justin Wilson.
At the restart, Wilson passed both Rahal and Montoya around the outside to grab second. Power, who charged his nose section at his first stop, ran eighth.
Dixon dropped back to 12th thanks to the poor timing of the second yellow, while Castroneves passed Bourdais to be his closest challenger on the same strategy during the first round of pitstops.
The multiple strategies in play meant Wilson, Castroneves and Montoya all led as the pitstops cycled through.
Third yellow rolls the dice again
After a quiet middle stint, Dixon pitted for the final time on lap 64, fitting scrubbed reds.
The decisive move of the race was Rahal pitting just as Sage Karam spun, bringing out the third full-course yellow, but Montoya was caught out along with Newgarden, Power, Castroneves and Bourdais.
For the final stint, Rahal led Wilson, Pagenaud, Dixon and Kanaan. Montoya dropped to 12th. Rahal held off a twin attack at the restart from Wilson to the outside and Pagenaud to the inside.
One final scare
Despite having used all his push-to-pass boost availability, Rahal pulled clear of Wilson in the final stint – only for the fourth full-course caution to occur with 10 laps to go, when Kimball spun for the third time in 70 laps.
At the restart, Wilson used his push-to-pass to grab the lead momentarily into Turn 1, but Rahal braved it out on the brakes and just stayed ahead. He rattled off the remaining laps, with Wilson and Pagenaud completed the podium positions, with Dixon fourth.
Marco Andretti pulled a superb round-the-outside move on Montoya, who was in no mood to risk his points lead, to demote him to 13th.
The race featured the debut of IndyCar’s new onboard LED track-light system, which gave trackside fans a better understanding of who was running where in a sometimes-confusing multiple-strategy event.