Graham Rahal’s initial record at his home track of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course left a lot to be desired. In his first six starts, between 2008 and 2013, Rahal had only one top ten (eighth in 2009) and three finishes of 18th or worse.
However, between 2014 and 2016, Rahal enjoyed a run of three consecutive top fives at his home track, including a win in 2015.
In Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Rahal enjoyed a strong run that saw him in the top five the entire day before eventually finishing third, extending his top five streak at Mid-Ohio to four in a row and giving him two podiums in his last three Mid-Ohio races.
When asked about the recent run of success at his home track, Rahal credited Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s base setup as well as the race’s position late in the season, making it a vital stop during the championship push.
“You want to do a great job when you come home. So, yes, there’s part of that. I think our guys have just done a good job here and the setups have been strong. You know, it’s just every time we come here, it feels like it’s championship time and we’re pushing, we’re all pushing and at our best at that time. So it’s worked out well for us, but hopefully, we can keep this going,” Rahal discussed.
Of course, the home crowd also helps get Rahal pumped up. “I must say the crowd, the vibe, it’s tremendous here. So thank you so much to the fans that come out,” he said of the atmosphere. “It’s a blast. I mean, it makes me proud too. I know Ohio people are big sports people. I know people from lots of other states come too, lots from Indiana and up north. But it was awesome this week, and the turnout was phenomenal.”
Although Rahal lost a little ground in the championship, falling to sixth behind Will Power, he is still in the hunt, sitting sixth on 395 points, 58 behind new points leader Josef Newgarden.
A look at other stories to emerge from Toronto are below.
Toronto Takes a Bite of IndyCar
Toronto is infamous as a venue that produces close quarters and often lots of contact between drivers, and Sunday’s race was no different.
And Toronto did not discriminate either, attacking veterans and young guns alike. Sebastien Bourdais (four-time champion, two-time Toronto winner) and spun and backed into the Turn 1 tire barrier. Ryan Hunter-Reay (former champion, Indy 500 winner, and 2012 Toronto winner) nosed into the Turn 3 tire barrier after locking up the brakes.
Josef Newgarden (defending IndyCar champion and 2017 Toronto winner) and Will Power (2014 IndyCar champion, this year’s Indy 500 winner, and a two-time Toronto winner) both clouted the wall exiting the final corner.
Alexander Rossi (2016 Indy 500 winner and a winner from this year’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach) suffered two damaged front wings and made six pit stops on the day. And rookie Rene Binder spun and stalled in Turn 8.
Indeed, Toronto was its usual carnage-filled self. But it wasn’t only because of the tightly packed circuit. Sunday’s race was also contested in hot and slick conditions, with tire marbles and dust also prominent from the outset.
Newgarden particularly highlighted the marbles and dust when describing his contact with the Turn 11 wall.
“It was a tough race. Making contact with the wall didn’t help. I don’t know what it was to be honest with you, it was either marbles or dust from the sweepers; they’re trying to clean off the track and that yellow, when we already had tons of marbles 27 laps in,” he explained.
Even race winner Dixon bumped the wall once exiting Turn 1. While he didn’t suffer damage, he also noted how tricky the conditions were, and revealed just how exhausting the day was.
“I’m worn out, man, that was a physical race,” he detailed. “It was definitely easy to pick up lots of debris on the tires out there, and I think that’s what happened to Josef (Newgarden) on that restart where we took the lead. He tried to go a little bit fast into the last corner there in Turn 11, got into the gray and that was pretty much it.”
Indeed, the tricky conditions combined with the already difficult Toronto street circuit to create another chaotic outing north of the border.
Wickens, Hinchcliffe Give Canadian Crowd Something to Cheer About
Canadian fans are among the most enthusiast race fans you’ll ever find, and they’re particularly passionate about their homegrown heroes.
And they had plenty to cheer about on Sunday, notably in the form of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe.
Starting ninth (Hinchcliffe) and tenth (Wickens) respectively, they maneuvered their way through the chaos to run inside the top five – Wickens even used a slick move on a Lap 34 restart to go from fifth to second.
Wickens eventually finished third after battling with Simon Pagenaud, while Hinchcliffe was elevated to fourth after a late pit stop by Marco Andretti – Andretti needed a splash of fuel with one lap left.
Their results mark the third year in a row that a Canadian driver has been on the podium in Toronto (Hinchcliffe finished third in the 2016 and 2017 outings).
Wickens, who acknowledged he doesn’t typically get emotional, couldn’t help but feel a little emotion after scoring a podium finish in his home race.
“Thankfully, I’m not an overly teary guy, but that (finishing on the podium in Canada) was really cool. I can’t thank these Toronto fans enough. I mean, this whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions, and to stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Wickens revealed.
For Hinchcliffe, finishing fourth was just as impressive, if not more so given that he did it with a damaged car. Hinchcliffe suffered suspension damage following the Lap 34 crash in Turn 1, in which he had contact with Takuma Sato.
“On that restart melee, we got tagged by Takuma, which I should know better than staying on the inside of him in a corner like that. I bent the toe link, and from there, it was a bit of a struggle to feel the car out and see how it was going to change with the bend in the suspension,” he detailed. “Honestly, the Arrow Electronics car was still pretty great, and in that last stint, we were chasing down the leaders. Who knows what could have been, but ultimately happy with Robbie being on the podium and two SPM cars in the top five.”
And their results paid dividends in their championship standings. Wickens now sits sixth, while Hinchcliffe is back inside the top 10 – ninth.
New Faces Grace the Top 10
Because so many of the usual suspects had trouble, some new faces graced the top 10, and even the top five, for the first time in 2018.
Charlie Kimball gave Carlin Racing its first top five by finishing fifth, his best finish since he finished sixth at Road America last year.
Tony Kanaan finished seventh for A.J. Foyt Racing, their first top 10 since Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit (Kanaan also finished seventh there).
Zach Veach finished eighth, his best result since he finished fourth at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Marco Andretti was running fourth before he pitted for a late splash of fuel – it would have been only his second top five of the year (fourth in Detroit in Race 1 is his best result of 2018).
And Jordan King just missed out on his first top 10, finishing 11th.
They all found themselves in position to capitalize as others around them faltered, and some were rewarded immensely as a result.
Conor Daly deserves kudos for a strong outing after a last-minute call up from Harding Racing. He qualified 11th and ran a clean race to finish 13th. While unspectacular, Daly gave a nice account for himself as he seeks to return to IndyCar full-time.
A possible top five, what would have been his third in a row, got away from Takuma Sato when he smacked the wall exiting Turn 11. Combine that with Graham Rahal being involved in the Lap 34 pileup, suffering damaged suspension in the process, and it was a day to forget for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Very quietly, Zachary Claman De Melo, the “other” Canadian in the field, drove another clean race to finish 14th. While it won’t garner attention like the results of his countrymen, it is another solid outing for a rookie who is still learning the ropes.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now takes a weekend off before heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN).