Rahal Breaks Records with St. Petersburg Victory Second-generation IndyCar racer Graham Rahal became the youngest race winner in the history of North American open-wheel racing, and just the fourth IndyCar driver to win in his series debut ...
Rahal Breaks Records with St. Petersburg Victory
Second-generation IndyCar racer Graham Rahal became the youngest race winner in the history of North American open-wheel racing, and just the fourth IndyCar driver to win in his series debut Sunday in an action-filled Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
To score the win, the 19-year-old son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal had to recover from a mid-race spin -- resulting from a tap from Will Power on a Lap 37 restart -- and hold off determined advances from Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves, who was seeking his third consecutive St. Petersburg victory, over the final dozen laps.
The fourth-annual Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg started under caution, as a heavy rain shower just minutes before the scheduled green flag left standing water around much of the 1.8-mile temporary circuit. The race went green after 10 caution laps, but track conditions remained changeable throughout the two-hour timed event, as teams switched from deeply-grooved rain tires to racing slicks.
Once racing got underway, pole qualifier Tony Kanaan took the early lead, but a decision to pit under caution on Lap 17 backfired for both Kanaan and third-running Castroneves, as most of the field elected to stay on track and the early leaders emerged in 11th and 14th places, respectively. They would spend the remainder of the day fighting their way to the front, with Castoneves emerging as Rahal's final challenger and finishing second, and Kanaan finishing third for the third consecutive year.
As for Rahal, the spin dropped him from third to 23rd, but the Newman Haas Lanigan driver worked his way through the field, and pit strategy allowed him to stay on track during a caution period on Lap 57. He restarted second behind Ryan Hunter Reay, who drives for the senior Rahal's Rahal Letterman Racing team, and passed for a lead he would not relinquish on Lap 65.
Following the lead trio, former Champ Car drivers Ernesto Viso and Enrique Bernoldi rounded out the top five -- as "transition" drivers and teams claimed five of the top 10 finishing positions -- while Japanese rookie Hideki Mutoh gained two positions on the final lap to round out the top six finishers.
Graham Rahal (#06 Newman Haas Lanigan Racing Honda) Started 9th, finished 1st, his first IndyCar Series victory; fourth driver in series history to win in his debut race, youngest winner in IndyCar Series history at 19 years, 93 days: "It was a tough start for us, the spin after the tap from Will [Power] put us really back. But the team never gave up and I had a great car. From that point on everything worked perfectly. I knew we had the pace to pull away from the field if I could get to the front, and the team made great calls from the pits. At the end, I knew Helio [Castroneves] was right there, but if I kept calm we could pull away again. Everything just worked out so well, this is awesome!"
Helio Castroneves (#3 Team Penske Honda) Started 4th, finished 2nd, won here in 2006 and '07, takes the early season championship points lead: "It was tough. It was so difficult at the start, I couldn't see anything and there were a lot of puddles. The officials definitely made the right call to start under caution until the conditions improved. On our pit strategy, I followed [leader] Tony [Kanaan] into the pits [under caution on Lap 17] but no one else did! That put us in the back and I have to say that everyone took good care of each other out there. There was a lot of 'give and take', even while we fought for positions. Of course you want to win, but second gives us the points lead and our goal is the championship, so that's good enough today."
Erik Berkman (President, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "Congratulations to Graham Rahal and the entire Newman Haas Lanigan Racing team. It was an outstanding performance for this young man and his team to win in his first IndyCar Series start, and just his 15th major-league open-wheel race. I think we witnessed the birth of a new racing star today, and the first of his many victories to come. The changing weather conditions certainly made this an exciting event and it appeared that all of the fans braved the weather to watch a great race."