BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Blisters. Pain. Wing damage. Contact. Lapped traffic.
And after all that, a second place finish in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Graham Rahal fought through a heavy amount of obstacles during the fourth round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season and after starting sixth, ended second in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, with Mi-Jack on the car that also has several other partners.
A rare flap failure on the right front wing affected him early in the race, but he soldiered on regardless.
Once he got into second place after the third and final round of stops, Rahal began his charge to catch Simon Pagenaud – from 3.436 seconds on Lap 67 to 0.8405 of a second on Lap 80.
The build up to the lead battle occurred shortly thereafter, Rahal getting a run on race leader Simon Pagenaud into Turn 7, but then trying to hang on as he and Pagenaud made contact once Pagenaud turned into the corner.
“It was a nice block. As you can see, he completely turns in and that’s fine,” Rahal told NBCSN post-race. “To me it’s just a racing incident, he obviously just came right back on behind us. If he’s going to drive like that, that’s fine. I gave him room on the outside there. I could have pushed him off.”
But then Rahal came upon Jack Hawksworth on Lap 86, and that’s when his win chance went awry. Rahal tried a move to the left of Pagenaud to defend against the Frenchman but wound up hitting Hawksworth instead, which damaged the remainder of his front wing – this time on the left side.
“Hawksworth was on the outside of five and I thought he was going to stay out and then he came across and it just caught me out,” Rahal added. “He was gonna let us by, it was just the direction in which he was and Simon was very good in turns two and three.
“I knew I needed a good run in five. I was better than him in five. The right front flap broke on 40, so we were doing the whole race without the wing as it should have been so it was a tough battle to stay with those guys in the first place.”
Rahal expanded on the day further in his post-race press conference.
“It was fun. I knew I could catch Simon. I felt I was the best in the long run. We let this one slip today,” he reflected.
“This should have been ours. I let the guys down. At the end we had the car to beat. I took my eye off the ball when Jack was there. By the time I reacted, it was a little too late.”
Rahal did admit he was happy that Pagenaud, despite what he called a “block” but later clarified to mean “racing incident,” did not have his race ruined fully by a non-call from INDYCAR Race Control.
“I wouldn’t want to see his day completely ruined by a call like that,” Rahal said. “Maybe I’m one of the only guys that would say that.
“But it’s the most physical race I’ve ever driven. (Running) 90 laps here green, is harder than running a marathon. I have a blister the size of Texas growing on my hand. It was everything I could do to hang on. I wouldn’t want to see his day ruined.”
Rahal moves up to sixth in points following this result.