Mix of nostalgia and focusing forward for Rahal in Pocono

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Bobby Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team had a better weekend in Iowa than the month previous. Now, the 1988 Pocono winner returns to the 2.5-mile oval for this weekend’s IZOD IndyCar Series race as a team owner, and hopes that his drivers Graham Rahal and James Jakes can enjoy a second half surge.

“When I won in 1988 that was the one and only victory with a Judd engine in the history of Judd,” the senior Rahal recalled in the team’s advance release. “To be honest, we weren’t the fastest although we qualified well (third). The Chevy’s were much more powerful than the Judd was at the time but it was a battle of attrition and in the end Al (Unser) Sr. and I had a fight.

“He was Chevy-powered and with Penske and the Chevy was very strong at the time but we just outlasted everybody which was somewhat unusual with that engine because we suffered with reliability earlier in the year. In the end we were the last ones standing so to speak.

“What made that race even more special was that earlier in the week we had broken ground on my first automobile dealership in Mechanicsburg, PA. that started the Automotive Group we’ve got going today, and won the race too. It was a special week.”

Jakes ended Thursday’s test after 104 laps in 10th; Graham Rahal 22nd after experimenting with different downforce levels in his 141 laps. Rahal ended the session with a slight brush against the Turn 1, with minimal exterior damage. The team also tested at Pocono immediately after Iowa last week.

“The aero configuration is a little bit different from the test and the weather was different too, it was a little warmer and windy today,” said Jakes. “It’s hard to say how different the car is but I think we had a productive day. We certainly tested a lot which is what we needed to do. Generally on the super speedways we’ve been pretty good so we’ve just got to keep on working hard and make improvements overall. Hopefully we can make some steps and Honda can as well to be in a position to fight right at the top come Sunday.”

“I didn’t feel a ton more downforce (in the car) but I know that there is since last week’s test,” said Rahal. “We struggled with our car a little bit today so to say that I felt it wouldn’t be true. Frankly I felt the other tire was a little bit better for my car but we couldn’t run it with the blistering so we will have to make the most of what we’ve got here. We’ll keep working hard on it.

Valiant efforts from Hunter-Reay, Dixon come up just short at Road America

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Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon drove about as hard as they possibly could during Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, and they both drove nearly perfect races.

Hunter-Reay took advantage of Will Power’s engine issues on the start to immediately jump into second, and stalked pole sitter and leader Josef Newgarden from there, often staying within only a couple car lengths of his gearbox.

Dixon, meanwhile, had a tougher chore after qualifying a disappointing 12th. Further, he was starting in the same lane as Will Power, and when Power had engine issues when the green flag waved, Dixon was one of several drivers who was swamped in the aftermath.

Scott Dixon had to come from deep in the field on Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

However, as is his style, he quietly worked his way forward, running sixth after the opening round of pit stops, and then working his way up to third after the second round of stops.

It all meant that, after Lap 30, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay, and Dixon were nose-to-tail at the front, with the latter two in position to challenge for the win.

Yet, neither was able to do so. Hunter-Reay never got close enough to try to pass Newgarden, while Dixon couldn’t do so on either Hunter-Reay or Newgarden. And, neither driver went longer in their final stint – Dixon was actually the first of that group to pit, doing so on Lap 43, with Hunter-Reay and Newgarden pitting together one lap later.

And Newgarden pulled away in the final stint, winning by over three seconds, leaving Hunter-Reay and Dixon to finish second and third.

It was a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, with Hunter-Reay noting that he felt like he had enough to challenge for a win.

“I felt like we had the pace for (Newgarden), especially in the first two stints,” he asserted. “I really felt like it was going to be a really good race between us. Whether it be first, second, third, fourth stint – I didn’t know when it was going to come.”

He added that, if he could do it over again, he would have been more aggressive and tried to pass Newgarden in the opening stint.

“In hindsight, I should have pressured him a bit more in the first stint,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We were focused on a fuel number at the time. Unfortunately that Penske fuel number comes into play, can’t really go hard.”

Dixon, meanwhile, expressed more disappointment in the result, asserting that qualifying better would have put him in a possibly race-winning position.

“I think had we started a little further up, we could have had a good shot at trying to fight for the win today,” he expressed.

The disappointment for Dixon also stems from the knowledge that his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda had the pace to win, especially longer into a run.

“The car was pretty good on the long stint,” he asserted. “I think for us the saving grace was probably the black tire stint two. We closed a hefty gap there. We were able to save fuel early in the first stint, which enabled us to go a lap longer than everybody, had the overcut for the rest of the race.

“I think speed-wise we were right there. Had a bit of a crack at Hunter-Reay on his out lap on the last stint there, but cooked it too much going into (Turn 14), got a bit loose, lost momentum. That would have been really the only chance of passing him.”

Dixon remains in the championship lead, however, by 45 points, while Hunter-Reay moved up to second, tied with Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi.

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