Graham Rahal’s Fontana win was long overdue, and a long time coming

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Lost in all the post-race hoopla of what the MAVTV 500 race was like, and the dissenting camps on whether it was too dangerous or overly exciting, was the fact Graham Rahal actually won the damn thing.

Yes, the guy folks have been asking since that glorious first win in the rain in St. Petersburg, 2008, when was he going to win his second race, finally won his second race in the No. 15 Mi-Jack/Steak ‘n Shake Honda.

And it’s been a shame it’s been as overlooked as it has in the grand scheme of things.

It’s been obvious to anyone paying attention in the Verizon IndyCar Series this year since as early as NOLA Motorsports Park, the second race of the year, that Rahal and the revamped, reorganized Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team have been operating at another level this season.

You can’t build chemistry, and the fact Rahal is enjoying a career season with individuals like Mike Talbott, Martin Pare and Eddie Jones speaks to how well they’re all gelling as a collective unit.

This eventual win has been building for months.

Rahal was borderline top-five in St. Petersburg before a penalty issued for avoidable contact, which was questionable at best as other drivers made contact with other cars but avoided penalty. He was running top-five at NOLA before the pit stop strategy gamble made by others shuffled him back.

Long Beach was OK, but Barber was his breakout. If he had another two or three laps, Rahal might have caught eventual winner Josef Newgarden, or to another point, Newgarden might have ran out of fuel.

His second straight runner-up in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis came courtesy of a dynamite first lap to avoid the first corner chaos. The fifth place in the Indianapolis 500 a few weeks later came with the Hondas notably down on overall performance compared to the Chevrolets.

Only at Detroit race one, where he was wrecked out at Turn 1, was the early season momentum halted. But another podium followed in Detroit race two.

Consecutive tough results in Texas and Toronto, 15th and ninth, threatened to derail the progress but Rahal rebounded in a big way this Saturday in Fontana.

Was there controversy over the fuel buckeye issue and subsequent caution? Sure there was. But, as noted, INDYCAR has changed the rule this year to where pit road infractions are subject to post-race penalties. So Rahal’s not being penalized in-race is consistent with the other 11 instances this season.

But at the end of the day, Rahal won. It didn’t matter how. He was due. The team was due.

source: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

“It feels good. I mean, you know, I’m most happy for my dad and Dave and Mike and all our sponsors that kind of came back and gave us some life this year,” Rahal said during the post-race press conference.

“This is a big, big deal for us. You know, there’s a lot of people that made a lot of comments about myself and about our team and about our owners and everything else that weren’t fair to be quite frank, so to kind of rebound the way we have all season, I mean, this feels good to win for sure, and I’m definitely looking forward to tonight, I can tell you that.

“It’s been a good year, and we’ve shown that it wasn’t like a one‑hit wonder that we were good at ‑‑ I don’t even know, Barber or something. I feel like we’re starting to find our form everywhere a little bit, and I think that’s helping us in the big picture, and I told my guys, you know, I mean, my sights are still set on finishing in the top-five in points. I don’t know that we can win it, I really don’t, but top-five in points I think is achievable.”

Rahal wasn’t a pre-race favorite Saturday on paper, starting 19th, but as he told his team pre-race, with 500 miles to go and passing opportunities plentiful, they still had a great shot.

“This morning we got together, and I said, guys, yeah, we start 19th, but this is our best opportunity right now,” he said.

“It starts here. These next three races are where we’ve been weak the last three years, and the next couple races are where we need to improve, and I think everybody did a good job, and seriously, enough can’t be said for this team.”

Rahal described what it means to have had this success as a one-car team, up against the mights – and staffs – of three- or four-car powerhouse operations.

“I mean, you’ve got to understand, we’re understaffed by a couple people, where we’ve never done a wind tunnel day. We’ve done one shaker rig deal. We don’t have the resources others do, and these guys put their heads down, and they work damned hard, and I’m really proud of them.”

Rahal, now 26 and engaged to NHRA star Funny Car driver Courtney Force, is also a more mature driver, more appreciative of his moment this time around.

“I think I’ve always been a firm believer in everything in life happens for a reason, and I think it’s really caused me to grow up, and I feel fortunate that today is the day that I got it,” he said. “Hopefully we can move on from here and not make it another seven years.”

The Rahal/Force engagement has been something of an off-track, consistent story for IndyCar throughout the year.

But what “G” and RLL have done on-track this year on the whole is so, so, incredibly worthy of widespread, national media praise and attention.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.