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.”