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Graham Rahal doubles up in Detroit

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DETROIT – Graham Rahal called his shot at the start of the weekend, saying he could dominate if he got the pole ahead of this weekend’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear.

He did just that in race one. And he did it again in race two.

The American became the first to wave the flag as a U.S. winner at the Raceway on Belle Isle Park since 1996 (Michael Andretti) on Saturday, becoming the seventh winner in as many races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

And on Sunday, he became the first driver to double up in 2017, and also became the first driver to win both races of the Detroit doubleheader since the format was introduced in 2013, surviving a late red flag for a pair of mechanicals to do it. Scott Dixon swept Toronto in 2013, the only other doubleheader sweep race winner in the format’s history.

The No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsForTroops.com Honda won today’s race by 1.1772 seconds after leading 41 of 70 laps in this race, once again almost completing a perfect weekend. All he missed today was a point for being the fastest qualifier in his group.

Rahal got into the net lead after the first round of pit stops, because he was on a two-stop strategy while others were on a three-stopper. Rahal was second on the road to Josef Newgarden but net first after getting ahead of Takuma Sato by Lap 25. Once Newgarden pitted on Lap 29, that moved Rahal to the lead on Lap 30, and that was where he’d stay the rest of the race except during the pit stop cycles themselves.

On a three-stop strategy, Newgarden pushed early to get up to fifth place in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, and then leap-frogged past polesitter Sato, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud on his final stop to get up to second on track.

It marks Newgarden’s first podium in Detroit and caps off a weekend where he was the top finishing Chevrolet, and top finishing Team Penske driver, in both the manufacturer and team owner Roger Penske’s home race.

Power took third place in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet after getting ahead of Sato on the last stop with a quicker final exit.

Sato fell to fourth in the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda for Andretti Autosport after scoring his first pole position in three years in the morning.

Pagenaud took the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet to the final top-five position.

There was not a caution that interrupted the race, which looked set to be the second time in the last three road or street races this has happened (INDYCAR Grand Prix at IMS road course), until Lap 66 when James Hinchcliffe stopped on track exiting Turn 2.

It got worse when Spencer Pigot’s Chevrolet engine blew up in spectacular fashion also exiting Turn 2, and that brought out a red flag to clean up the track. That lasted 18 minutes.

While contact was expected, it didn’t come on the restart – and Rahal held on over Newgarden and Power in what was an anticlimactic finish.

There was some contact earlier throughout the race – notably involving front-row starter Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves where Castroneves had a left rear flat and Hunter-Reay required a front wing change – and also when rookie Ed Jones and JR Hildebrand collided.

Jones hadn’t looked a rookie all season but that contact coupled with a stall on exit left him in a season-worst 22nd and last place after starting only 17th.

Results are below. More to follow.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.