Paddock Buzz: Rahal, Grosjean at Odds after Late-Race Joust

  • Racing News
Barber Motorsports Park

Graham Rahal wasted no time establishing his take on his double late-race contact with Romain Grosjean in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park.

“Does (the audience) want ‘Honest Graham,’ or do I have to behave today?” he asked NBC Sports reporter Kevin Lee. “Which one do we prefer?”

The answer was obvious, so Rahal continued with his version of the incident in Turn 5.

“I just think it’s clear – just watch the in-car camera,” he said. “Look at the angle of (Grosjean’s) head. When I can see in the mirror his head is directed (at me) when the track is going (the other way), it’s pretty self-explanatory. I gave him room.”

Rahal had gone wide in Turn 5 in a bid to close in on Scott McLaughlin’s No. 3 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet in a race for sixth place. Grosjean came charging up on the inside of Rahal.

Their first touch was at the apex of the corner, but it was the second contact, much further up the road, that had Rahal seething.

“Look, we’re already straight there; why are you turning into me?” Rahal said to the monitor while watching the replay. “Your right front (wheel) is at my left rear. There’s no excuse for that.

“Here … what? Look at him, just releases the car to hit me. And then here again, boom! You’re straight.”

When it happened, Rahal told his team on their radio that Grosjean “hit me on purpose.”

Grosjean said there was “a lot of wheel banging” in the 90-lap race because “it’s so hard to pass” on this 17-turn, 2.3-mile permanent road course. Grosjean said the two touches of Rahal’s car was an example of that.

“It’s good racing,” he said. “It’s INDYCAR wheel-to-wheel action.”

Rahal said he was disappointed that Grosjean got past him on the last lap as Rahal’s No. 15 Code 3 Associates Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was running out of fuel. Grosjean finished seventh in the No. 28 DHL Honda of Andretti Autosport, Rahal was eighth.

Another ‘Power(ful)’ Finish

Will Power still doesn’t have a race win this NTT INDYCAR SERIES season and is fourth in the point standings heading to the two races this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But the driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet showed Sunday why he is having one of his best seasons yet. He recovered from a 19th-place starting position to finish fourth.

Power has finished third, fourth, fourth and fourth in this year’s race to date. While fourth in the standings, he is only 10 points out of the series lead heading to the GMR Grand Prix, held on a road course where he has won five NTT P1 Awards and five races, both series highs.

“I really didn’t expect to be that far up,” Power said after the Barber charge. “I think for a top-10 (finish), that’s what we talked about in the strategy meeting.

“The good thing is, when you don’t qualify well you have good tires for the end of the race, and we had pretty good pace. Great strategy by the team and just a good effort all around. Really solid day.”

Power said a change of mindset over the offseason to roll with things better is working.

“I’ve been around so long – this my 17th year – I just know the game so well,” he said. “(The season) ebbs and it flows, and you have your good days and bad days, and all you can do is do your best; there’s not much you can do (otherwise). I’m just trying to enjoy it while I’m doing it.”

The last time Power had a start this strong was in 2014 when he won the Astor Cup as the season champion.

Herta’s Drive a Joy To Watch

Like Power and others, Colton Herta was on the three-stop strategy in a bid to overcome a disappointing qualifying session. It was on pace to work well until series rookie Callum Ilott brought out the caution on Lap 32 (of 90) with a spin into the Turn 9 gravel trap.

The No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian was in 18th place on the ensuing restart and quickly started passing cars. Herta was pushing McLaughlin for sixth place on Lap 76 when he drove too deep into Turn 5, locked the front tires, bumped McLaughlin and spun. By the time he regrouped he was in 10th place, which is where he started and finished.

“I was just a little overambitious, but our race was toast at that point, anyways,” Herta said. “An unfortunate timed yellow.”

Herta felt his team’s strategy was perfect given the low starting position.

“The three-stop was going to work,” he said. “We were going to beat all of the two-stoppers with the pace we were running.

“The part that screwed us was Callum going off and causing the yellow. It’s unfortunate, but these things happen when you have (different strategies). You can be bit a little bit (by cautions).”

Odds And Ends

  • Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, executed a rare NTT INDYCAR SERIES trifecta, delivering the invocation for Sunday’s race, giving a stirring command to start engines and then riding with Mario Andretti in the Ruoff Mortgage Fastest Seat in Sports. Tebow had a memorable weekend, giving the commencement address at the University of Florida, his alma mater, on Saturday.
  • Sam Schmidt, a former INDYCAR SERIES driver who is a co-owner of Arrow McLaren SP, was honored Saturday with an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Pepperdine, his alma mater.
  • Chevrolet has now won the first four races of the season, two by Josef Newgarden and one each by McLaughlin and Pato O’Ward.
  • O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) now has three career series wins: on an oval (at Texas Motor Speedway), on a street circuit (Detroit) and a road course (Barber Motorsports Park).
  • Reigning series champion Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing) took the points lead for the first time this season with his third top-three finish in four races. For his career, he has 12 podiums in 34 races. “He’s as solid as a rock,” Power said.
  • Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) finished fifth, scoring his second top-five finish of the season. He is now within eight top-five finishes of Mario Andretti’s record of 193.
  • For the second year in a row, Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing led every lap of an Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race from the pole, this time taking his fourth career series victory in dramatic fashion. Lundqvist held off teammate Benjamin Pedersen of Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports by .1782 of a second on rain tires amid a drying track.
  • Nolan Siegel of DEForce Racing won the second Indy Pro 2000 race of the weekend, leading all 30 laps for his second win of the season. Siegel also won the second race in St. Petersburg in February.
  • Jagger Jones, the grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, won his first USF2000 series race Sunday in a 1-2 sweep by Cape Motorsports. Michael d’Orlando finished second.