Rahal seeks Detroit podium three-peat to atone for Indy disappointment

Photo: IndyCar

Pre-race, even starting 26th, Graham Rahal and the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing Honda crew felt confident they were well-poised for success in last Sunday’s 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The car was good, the driver was good, the pit stops were good, all things you’d expect. But luck was not on their side as they ended an unrepresentative 14th despite the promise of top-five potential. In some respects, it was similar to races this year at St. Petersburg and Long Beach where Rahal ended worse than his drive would have illustrated.

Rahal noted pre-race that he was incredibly happy with his car, and had gained nine spots up to P17 by the time of his first pit stop on Lap 30. He’d made it back from 22nd to 17th again on the second stint, then gained two more spots on the second sequence. In that sequence, Rahal was running close to defending Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, then had to swerve to avoid Montoya once he crashed on Lap 64.

Once in 15th, matching his car number, Rahal were finally able to make even more strides in the third stint to get as his as 11th.

But that’s when it all went a bit off script. After his pit stop on Lap 96, under a yellow for Sage Karam’s accident, Rahal lost his left rear winglet and 100 pounds of downforce. On Lap 115 when Mikhail Aleshin spun out of the race, Rahal had to take evasive action again as the Russian driver crashed exiting Turn 1 into Turn 2. He sustained contact from Aleshin’s teammate and his own past teammate, Oriol Servia, to the right rear.

To top it off, he had to make an extra stop for a splash of fuel in a closed pit on Lap 152, and that knocked him back from what had been fourth place entering a yellow on Lap 150 to 18th by the restart on Lap 158.

Rahal was among the runners who pitted on Lap 164 but couldn’t quite stretch his mileage to the end, and needed a final splash on Lap 190, after entering in P11. He ended 14th.

“It just wasn’t our day. We just never had the pace all day which is kind of weird,” Rahal said in the team’s post-race release. “We broke a left rear winglet in the pits. Someone was pushing the car and then we had to stop because Pippa (in the next pit) was coming in. The winglet was broken in the process which really hurt us because we lost a lot of downforce there but it also then left a blunt end on the car so it had a lot of drag and the car was really slow on the straights. Then we fought our way back up to the front and that final yellow killed us because we needed to pit and they didn’t open the pits. I don’t know why, but they waited an extra lap over what they normally do so we had to pit for a splash of fuel to make it until we could come in for a full stop. We kept our heads down and kept pushing.

“Our goal was to put the Steak ‘n Shake car in Victory Lane and we didn’t do it.  We’re going to have to wait another year to think about this. We missed a golden opportunity here. We had a great race car but there were just too many little errors today, not necessarily any one thing.  Hell, I’m just happy we finished.  I think three or four guys crashed in front of me. Every time, it was everything I could do to get the car slowed down without hitting them.  We couldn’t get the fuel mileage to make it to the end so we just bailed on that strategy and tried to run hard but it was too little, too late. I hate gas mileage races and feel pretty bad for some guys.”

Arguably the bigger blow to Rahal came in the points, owing to the double points for the race itself plus the points issued for qualifying. With 26th on the grid and 14th in the race, Rahal netted only 40 points total – which is down 84 to race winner Alexander Rossi, who scored 124. He fell from fifth, 109 points behind points leader Simon Pagenaud to 12th, 119 behind Pagenaud this weekend – even though he finished five spots ahead of Pagenaud in 19th.

For this weekend in Detroit, Rahal’s usual red and black No. 15 Honda will switch to an AERO Paint-created blue chrome and silver wrap, featuring United Rentals as the primary sponsor.

Rahal has a streak on the line this weekend. He’s the only driver in the field who has been on the podium in Detroit each of the last two years. He came second to Will Power in race one in 2014, his only podium of a trying season, then came third behind Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato in race two last year, one of six podiums.

“I’m looking forward to getting back on a street course,” Rahal said in the team’s pre-race advance. “I think we should be good. I know Long Beach was frustrating but I get the sense the United Rentals car should be fast and competitive. I am looking forward to getting to Detroit and getting running as soon as possible. Last year was a tough, wet, weekend. We were too conservative in the first race and ultimately got collected in others messes. We then went on Sunday and had a great race to follow it all up with podium. We are looking for a good solid weekend all around again this year.”

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s