By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park in Detroit was unkind to both Graham Rahal and Verizon IndyCar Series debutant Santino Ferrucci, ending their Saturday afternoons on the hook after separate crashes with less than 25 laps to go.
Rahal was running a two-stop strategy as the only driver to have started the race on the black primary Firestone tires. Eventually, he pitted for the softer reds on Lap 26, but struggled adapting on those alternate rubber.
As the race was winding down, Rahal moved up to second and appeared to be heading for a huge points day, but it all changed on the 47th lap.
Entering the Motul corner in Turn 13, Rahal’s right front hit the curb, violently sending him into the left side retaining wall and bringing out the day’s first full-course caution.
A frustrated Rahal apologized to his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team over the radio, citing that he had no clue what happened other than his car snapping on him.
Congrats @scottdixon9 on a great win today. Was the class of the field for sure. Disappointed mightily in myself, losing it when likely to finish 3rd at worse is awful. But, there’s always tomorrow. See you then.
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) June 2, 2018
The shunt was Rahal’s first retirement and last-place effort since April 29, 2017 at ISM Raceway, where he was involved in a five-car crash on the opening lap.
Rahal’s championship bid also took a heavy hit in the points standings, regressing him from sixth to seventh, 85 markers behind points leader Alexander Rossi.
The final full-course caution came out with 15 laps to go when 15th-place runner Charlie Kimball made contact with Ferrucci going into Turn 6, one of the fastest parts of the circuit.
The contact sent the Haas F1 reserve driver around at full speed, nearly collecting Matheus Leist and Zach Veach at the entry of Turn 7. Ferruci’s No. 19 Honda hit the turn’s curbs and careened nose first into the tire barriers.
Ferrucci, who was subbing for the injured Pietro Fittpaldi this weekend, put his head down, and took a moment to catch his breath before exiting his No. 19 Paysafe Honda.
Like in Fittpaldi’s debut at Phoenix, Ferrucci will have the word “retirement” next to his debut result due to an accident. Kimball was issued a stop-and-go penalty for avoidable contact after the incident, relegating him to a 19th-place finish.
Ferrucci was near the back of the field for most of the race, trying to save fuel in order to pull off a successful two-stop strategy. Before his late race exit, he had begun to outpace teammate Sebastien Bourdais, and had worked his way up to 13th.
When describing his debut, Ferrucci felt confident he could’ve scored a top-10 finish after understanding how to play fuel conservation.
“The #19 Paysafe, Cly-Del Dale Coyne Racing car was absolutely amazing,” Ferrucci said. “We had a fantastic balance coming out of qualifying. All the engineers did a fantastic job sorting the car out for me during the race. Once I figured out how to fuel save better, we picked up massive time and we were doing a really good job.
“We were in great shape to get a potential top 10 finish for my first outing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, so it’s disappointing to get run over like that, but that’s racing and we’ll come back stronger tomorrow.”
Both retirees will look for to avoid back-to-back retirements for tomorrow’s second race at Belle Isle.