GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma - Day 2

IndyCar: Late Sonoma fuel woes trip up contenders Rahal, Conway

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As the final laps of today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma played out, fuel came to the forefront as Graham Rahal (pictured) tried to stay ahead of the pack while running low.

But a late yellow that could have helped him and his Honda make it to Victory Lane never came.

After being told that he had to come in for a final splash, Rahal briefly went off course in Turn 9 before entering the pits with four laps to go.

As if that wasn’t demoralizing enough for a driver that hasn’t won in the Verizon IndyCar Series since his inaugural start in 2008, Rahal was then hit with a penalty for speeding on pit road.

Instead of grabbing a long-awaited second IndyCar win, he came home 20th.

“I thought that finally, it was gonna happen,” Rahal told NBCSN afterwards. “I think all day, we were dominant. When we had to pass people, we could go right on by ’em – I was really, really good out of [Turn] 6.

“They told me the fuel number I needed to get – I was running a yellow map, which is like, way down on boost. But I could still pull away from the guys and I was getting the numbers that I needed to. [Team owner Bobby Rahal] stopped telling me a number, so I thought, ‘Well…maybe this is gonna happen. Maybe there is enough fuel.’

“Then the pit light came on, and I knew that was it.”

Rahal had moved into the Top 10 early on and after pitting on Lap 32, he stayed out under a caution at Lap 37 to advance to the Top 5. He was second by the time he stopped again at Lap 57, and when the cycle ended, he found himself breathing down the neck of then-race leader Mike Conway.

On Lap 64, Rahal went to the inside of Turn 7 and snatched the lead from Conway. But after pitting early in the cycle, it was likely that he needed a yellow to make the strategy work.

When that didn’t happen and Rahal pitted with four to go, Conway inherited the lead. But his hold on it lasted all of a few seconds, as second-place Scott Dixon passed him down the front-stretch and went on to win his second race of the year.

Conway then lost second position to Ryan Hunter-Reay in Turn 7. But he was still up for a podium in his final run of 2014 for Ed Carpenter Racing until his Chevrolet ran dry on the last lap.

“I was doing all I could to keep [Dixon and Hunter-Reay] behind,” Conway told NBCSN after crawling by the checkered flag in 14th position. “They were a little bit quicker, and at the same time, I’m trying to save a lot of fuel and not let them catch me, so it was tricky. I thought I was making a good job of it, I hit my numbers…I thought it would be good.

“But then on [the last lap], I used an overtake trying to stop Dixie from getting by me, which maybe hurt [the mileage] a little bit. I couldn’t do much more there, unfortunately. Then, I thought we had it on for a podium at least. And as we got through Turn 10, it just died. It picked up again, and then it completely shut off out of the last corner.”

Conway summed it up as “annoying” but thought ECR had the right idea with the strategy: “It nearly worked – just another hundred meters and we would’ve been alright.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.