Rahal soldiers on to hard-luck second despite wing issues, contact

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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.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2