SONOMA, Calif. – Much like Simon Pagenaud in last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Graham Rahal entered the last race of the year as an underdog, but with a shot at the championship.
And like Pagenaud, he also picked the worst time to have his worst race of the year.
Rahal’s dream season – which we’ve chronicled throughout the year here on MotorSportsTalk – finally hit the wall metaphorically rather than literally in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, where Rahal fought an ill-handling car all day and was lucky to even be in top-10 contention in the waning stages of the 85-lap race.
Contact occurred on Lap 78 when Sebastien Bourdais hit his rear wing and knocked him into a spin at Turn 7 when battling over sixth place.
Bourdais was assessed a drive-through penalty for the contact and Rahal, while justifiably irate about this moment, was overall more frustrated his car wasn’t up to scratch. He ended 18th in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake RLL Honda.
“Our car was pretty terrible today,” Rahal said, speaking to NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis post-race. “The guys did great in the pits to keep us in it. We didn’t deserve to be in that position. I can’t thank this team and Steak ‘N Shake enough. Obviously the Bourdais thing hurt us from third to fourth. But what can you say. We definitely wanted to go out better than this.”
Rahal expanded on the tough day in the post-race press conference.
“Car was just miserable today, just miserable. I don’t know why. We’ve been pretty strong on road and street courses all year, but we found a bad day to be bad. But that doesn’t overshadow the year we had,” he said.
He also said Bourdais, who is a four-time Champ Car champion, has been driving like this in more recent years, where aggression has got the better of him.
“Bourdais unfortunately in recent times has made a lot of moves like that,” Rahal said. “I don’t know what kind of excuse he could possibly come up with, with hitting me in the rear, but I hit the brakes at the 200 mark. It was going to be impossible for him to stop had he gone inside of me, and even if he had gone outside, he wasn’t going anywhere, yet he clearly just wasn’t even looking.
“He was obviously just focused right on my gearbox and not where we were on the circuit, and he just drilled me, and around I went. He comes up to me and said he doesn’t mean to, but unfortunately that cost us third in the championship.
“What do you say? Again, what do you say? I don’t know, man. It’s frustrating. He’s a guy you should ‑ you should have high expectations for, and when you see stuff like that, it’s pretty disappointing.”
Rahal still held his head high despite the rough ending, as he fell to fourth in the final standings despite entering in second, 34 back of Juan Pablo Montoya.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of this year,” he told Beekhuis. “Steak ‘N Shake rescued this team and gave us the chance to race this year.”