McDONALD'S DRIVER AND POLESITTER RAHAL HIT AT START BUT REBOUNDED TO FINISH SEVENTH IN THE HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETE; DOORNBOS FINISHED 11TH AFTER RUNNING AS HIGH AS FIFTH - McDonald's driver Graham Rahal started from pole for the first...
McDONALD'S DRIVER AND POLESITTER RAHAL HIT AT START BUT REBOUNDED TO FINISH SEVENTH IN THE HONDA GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETE; DOORNBOS FINISHED 11TH AFTER RUNNING AS HIGH AS FIFTH
- McDonald's driver Graham Rahal started from pole for the first time in his Champ or Indy car career for the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg but his chances of earning back-to-back wins here were greatly diminished on the opening lap when he was hit from behind by Tony Kanaan. As the field entered the wide Turn 1, second place starter Justin Wilson pulled slightly ahead on Rahal's left while fifth place starter Dario Franchitti made a daring move on his right heading into the right hander. Rahal was not only squeezed in the process, he was hit from behind by Tony Kanaan which spun him sideways and into the grass. In addition Alex Tagliani ran over the nose of his race car while trying to avoid the melee. The first of seven full course cautions for a total of 28 laps came out and Rahal pitted for a new nose and was topped off with fuel before he rejoined the track at the back of the field in 21st place. As the first round of pit stops began he steadily moved up as high as ninth place before he made his first full pit stop and replaced his red alternate Firestone's for the standard black ones. He rejoined the field in 10th place but moved into eight on Lap 41 after he passed Marco Andretti and Darren Manning. He moved into seventh place when he passed teammate Doornbos who was struggling with rubber buildup on his tires. On Lap 55 E.J. Viso pit and Rahal moved into sixth place. He ran as high as fourth place but struggled with tire wear and lost some positions before he elected to pit one lap earlier than expected and came in on Lap 69 for a new set of Firestone primary tires and fuel. He returned to the track in 13th place and climbed to 10th for a few laps until he moved into seventh on Lap 87 after Doornbos and Wheldon made contact. Doornbos continued but Hideki Mutoh made light contact with Wheldon and Andretti made light contact with Mutoh which moved Rahal into seventh place. He held his position through two more restarts and until the checkered flag. He is ranked seventh in the point standings with 27. Justin Wilson led a race high 52 laps but finished third to Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Vision Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Following are Rahal's post race comments:
"The race started bad right from the beginning for the McDonald's team," said Rahal. "I was conservative on the start and I'm guessing it was Kanaan that punted me. It's absolutely ridiculous and you would expect a guy like that with experience to know it's the first corner of the first lap of the first race of the season. Why make moves like that? From there it was just battling back all day trying to find a way to get the car back up to the front. We certainly inched away at it to get back up to seventh from last place and I'm pretty happy with that but I think the results should have, and could have been better. Our race car was pretty good but it could have been better. The tires were really good but they wore out towards the end of a stint. One was out of balance and started vibrating like crazy. On one set of tires near the end of the stint the car didn't want to turn right what so ever and I lost a lot of positions. I was supposed to come in one lap later but I said 'Hey, I have to come in now.' It had been that way for about 10 laps. We had a couple of little issues here and there but we made it to the end."
- Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing driver Robert Doornbos had an eventful debut in the IndyCar Series in today's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg but drove to an 11th place finish after running as high as fifth in a wild race that saw seven caution periods for a total of 28 of the 100-laps. Doornbos started 13th and moved into 11th on the opening lap as pole sitter and teammate Graham Rahal was hit from behind by Tony Kanaan after the field drove four-wide into the first turn. Rahal spun sideways and went onto the grass while rookie Mike Conway was also involved when he tried to avoid the situation. Doornbos moved into ninth on Lap 3 when Kanaan and Raphael Matos pit. He moved into eighth place on Lap 29 when Alex Tagliani pit and came in for his first stop on Lap 30, one lap early due to tire wear. Once more stops were complete he reclaimed ninth place and moved up to fifth when the front runners pitted on Lap 36 during a caution for contact between Danica Patrick and Raphael Matos as well as the single car accident of Mario Moraes. The green flag flew on Lap 40 and Doornbos dropped two spots while he struggled with a lack of grip due to tire marbles. He dropped another three places and ran in 10th place by Lap 42. He moved up one position to ninth place on Lap 55 when E.J. Viso pitted. He moved into eight place for one lap before he made his next stop on Lap 67. Once that round of stops was completed he took over 10th place on Lap 71 through the caution for Ed Carpenter who crashed. During the caution he worked hard to keep the marbles from his tires and on the restart he passed Marco Andretti and Will Power to take eighth place on Lap 79 and continued into seventh place after he passed Hideki Mutoh on Lap 80. He held seventh place for a total of seven laps through another caution for contact by Scott Dixon and on the restart he planned to pass Dan Wheldon who had the slightly slower primary tires on while Doornbos had the faster, softer alternate Firestone's. As Doornbos was completing his pass, Wheldon clipped his right rear tire in Turn 4 which resulted in the No. 06 car going airborne and upon its return to the ground, the suspension was damaged. He came into the pits and the team worked fast to replace the left rear suspension in order to get him back on track to gain a position from Wheldon who returned but was listed ahead of him in rank. Once he returned to the track he was four laps down to the leaders but was able to move ahead of Wheldon, Marco Andretti and Stanton Barrett by the time the checkered flag flew. He is ranked 11th in the point standings with 19 and leads the Rookie of the Year standings. Justin Wilson led a race high 52 laps but finished third to Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Vision Racing's Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Following are Doornbos' post race comments:
"It was a very hectic weekend," said Doornbos. "Normally when I make my debut I finish on the podium so it's a shame we cannot hold that up here. We worked very hard this weekend and learned a lot. Starting 13th we knew it was going to be a long afternoon, but anything can happen in Indy car racing. We had a reasonably good first stint but we had to come in early because of a flat spot. In the end it turned out not so bad because it was a good pit stop by the boys and we got out in seventh or something. Then we raced well and raced hard. I made a mistake with the marbles. There were so many marbles on my tires that on the restart I was dropping like a rock. I had no grip whatsoever. I had saved too much fuel and didn't warm up the tires so it was a bit of a mistake. On the second restart I made sure that didn't happen again and passed three or four cars on the restart and went from 10th to sixth or seventh. And then I tried to pass Wheldon because I knew I could have him at the restart again because he was on blacks and I was on reds that had more grip. I went on the inside and got past him and then I think he had nowhere to go and he clipped my rear tire when I was in front. The car jumped up in the air and when it landed it bent the wishbone. I have to say thank you to the boys for getting me out again. They worked hard in the heat to replace the wishbone and I finished three places ahead of where I would have been. Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing will regroup for Long Beach and we will be very strong."
- Next Up...The team will test on Wednesday with Robert Doornbos at Texas Motor Speedway before making their 26th consecutive appearance in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 17-19. To date the team has earned six wins, 11 poles and 14 podium finishes in this event. Justin Wilson started from pole for NHLR last year but engine failure on Lap 13 ended his race. Graham Rahal had a podium in sight when he was attempting to take third last year but contact during this pass dropped him back.