Rahal breaks seven-year winless streak, Briscoe flips

Pack racing provided some spectacular racing and unfortunately, an airborne accident in the 500-mile fight at Auto Club Speedway.

The 500-mile fight for the win at Auto Club Speedway had everyone glued to their screens as drivers battle three, four, and even five wide from the first lap to the last lap.

Graham Rahal proved today that a one-car team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, can win a Verizon IndyCar Series race. Rahal’s victory in the MAVTV 500 wasn’t ensured until the final, sixth caution in the 250-lap contest as he was the leader when Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Hondas crashed on the front stretch, allowing the Ohio native to earn his first victory after a 125-race drought.

Rahal didn’t lead the most laps in his No. 15 RLLR Mi-Jack Honda - that distinction went to Will Power’s Penske Chevrolet, which led for 62 total laps while Rahal led only 15 - and he admitted his wasn’t the fastest car in the 23-car field. He wasn’t even close to being the fastest Honda driver in qualifying - that honor went to Marco Andretti who finished third here today, but Rahal knew he had a good race car.

The single car team that could

“This is a big deal for us,” Rahal said. “I’m mostly happy for dad (Bobby Rahal), for Dave (Letterman) and Mike Lanigan. All our sponsors are here and Honda, well, Honda has worked tirelessly. The car drove well in traffic, got good mileage and was very consistent. We had our strengths in the long run today,” which was optimal during the first half of a race that went from the green flag until the 135th lap before caution flew.

This race marked the return of pack racing, which was amazing for anyone to watch, but many, including second-placed Tony Kanaan, weren’t happy about the three, four and often five-wide action on the Auto Club Speedway 2-mile D-shaped oval. Kanaan spoke about the action on this track, evoking the memory of Dan Wheldon: “We don’t need to risk our lives for the 5,000 people here in the stands today,” he said. “That was one of the most nerve-wracking races I’ve ever been a part of, but I can’t be too upset with a podium finish.” CLICK HERE for more reactions

Andretti, who started third finished where he began the race and led 31 laps in the process. “It’s definitely crazy, but pack racing’s always like that. 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,” he said. “I shouldn’t have gone low; I should have known Graham was going to do that. If I would have gone high, I think we could have won the race.”

There were 80 lead changes among 14 drivers, breaking the old record of 73, set at this same track in 2001. There were times when the cars were so tight together that it was tough to figure out who was leading, in fact.

With the clean running at the first third of the race, there were times when the field was strung out - but there were still times of two-wide competition, especially at the front.

Castroneves brings out first yellow

The first caution came when Helio Castroneves, battling with Rahal for the lead, appeared to lift and became the meat in a Ryan Briscoe/Will Power sandwich. He lost control, spinning to the inside of the track out of the second turn and removed Briscoe’s right rear Honda wheel pod with his Chevy’s nose in the process. The Brazilian ended up against the wall but Team Penske had him back out on the track as the caution ended. He’d retire soon after with a bent toe link.

Briscoe was penalized for the incident - something this writer doesn’t agree with - and had to do a drive through the pits; he recovered to run with the leaders throughout the second half. Castroneves was the first car out of the race.

Teammates collide

The green flag flew on the 151st lap but there was another caution 7 laps later when Ed Carpenter’s Chevy developed a push and he got together with his teammate, Toronto winner Josef Newgarden on the front straight, eliminating both of them. That nine-lap caution preceded another round of green flag running until Rahal, during a green flag stop, left with the fuel nozzle still attached. It dropped off on the back straight so there was an eight-lap yellow for debris. Rahal will likely receive a penalty when the Wednesday notice comes out from INDYCAR.

The fourth caution, too, was for debris at lap 221-226, when Carlos Munoz lost the left rear Honda wheel pod after contact with the Chevy of Scott Dixon, while the fifth came when there was contact on the 240th lap between Takuma Sato and Power. The Japanese driver got loose of the fourth turn and made contact with Dixon (today’s pin ball), bounced off the Kiwi and into Power. INDYCAR wisely threw the red flag to try and ensure a green flag finish.

It wasn’t to be as, at the white flag, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who led his first three laps of the year today, was pushed into Briscoe and both cars crashed in front of the start/finish line. And that, as they say, was that.

There were no injuries to drivers today but a crew member was injured on the Dale Coyne Racing team during an early pit stop for the Honda of Tristan Vautier. He was taken to a local hospital for lower extremity injuries.

The Indy cars have another much-needed weekend off before heading to The Milwaukee Mile and then off to Iowa for the third oval contest in a row. If the action at this one pleased you - and it had my mouth dragging even as I was photographing the action - then it would be wise to see the Indy cars race in person. Races like this simply should not be missed.

Race results:

Pos Driver Team
Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Tony Kanaan Chip Ganassi Racing
Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport
Juan Pablo Montoya Team Penske
Sage Karam Chip Ganassi Racing
Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing
James Jakes Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
Charlie Kimball Chip Ganassi Racing
Simon Pagenaud Team Penske
10  Jack Hawksworth A. J. Foyt Enterprises
11  Carlos Munoz Chip Ganassi Racing
12  Stefano Coletti KV Racing Technology
13  Pippa Mann Dale Coyne Racing
14  Sebastien Bourdais KV Racing Technology
15  Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport
16  Ryan Briscoe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
17  Tristan Vautier Dale Coyne Racing
18  Takuma Sato A. J. Foyt Enterprises
19  Will Power Team Penske
20  Gabby Chaves Bryan Herta Autosport
21  Josef Newgarden CFH Racing
22  Ed Carpenter CFH Racing
23  Helio Castroneves Team Penske

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Event Fontana
Track California Speedway
Article type Race report