By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Pit lane bit quite arguably the three strongest cars from Saturday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America as pole sitter Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal and Santino Ferrucci had separate problems during different pit sequences, costing all of them a shot of winning.
A three-stop pit strategy was the name of the game during the 55-lap race, all having its twists and turns that ruined driver’s outcomes. The first victim was Graham Rahal, who was looking for his second straight podium this year and with an excellent pit stop right out of the gate, a shot of passing Newgarden for the lead was possible.
Then Lap 14 arrived and things appeared alright as the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew switched from the alternate Firestone reds to the primary blacks. Suddenly, the stop fell apart for Rahal as fuel wasn’t flowing onto his Honda machine, losing valuable seconds and track position.
They were able to fill it up, but any shot of winning evaporated as Rahal ended up from second to outside the top-10. Rahal rallied back into the top-10 over time and crossed the line with a respectable yet disappointing seventh-place finish.
“Another one we let get away,” said Rahal on Twitter. “The guys gave me a great car, but we had a fueling issue in the pits. We worked our way back up and managed to come out with a seventh place finish and $2,750 for #TurnsForTroops. Looking forward to tomorrow. I know we have a car that can finish on top!”
Rahal added that they’ll try to capitalize on their setup in order to propel his Honda towards the front.
“We need to get the car a little better, find a little rear grip overnight,” said Rahal. “Overall, I thought the engineers and mechanics have done a great job. The car has been super-reliable.”
Newgarden remained in command since the green flag had dropped as he had a sizable nine-plus second lead over Ferrucci. The second set of green flag stops came along and that’s when the bad pit voodoo deteriorated the reigning champion’s afternoon.
Following a solid pit execution from the No. 1 Team Penske crew where they ended up sticking with the blacks and needed no adjustments, Newgarden’s Chevrolet stalled and struggled to get it back under power.
Once they were able to do so the defending champion’s day of scoring at least a top-10 were dashed following a massive lockup late in the race and never recovered as he crossed the line in 14th, the worst among the trio who endured pit woes.
“It took us awhile to get it restarted, and that lost all the gap we had built, and from there and we were fighting from behind. We had gotten back into the top 10, and I just locked up the tires going into Turn 1 on one of those late restarts,” said Newgarden.
“So, our day went from a great to pretty bad pretty quickly. But hey, that’s racing – we just didn’t take advantage of our opportunities today.”
Despite this, Newgarden remained optimistic to run at Road America again.
“I’m thankful we have another shot tomorrow since I really love racing at this place,” said Newgarden. “We’re going to take a look at a few things tonight to make sure we have a solid plan going into tomorrow’s qualifying session with the PPG Chevrolet. I’m confident our guys will put together another fast car tomorrow.”
The last of the bunch was Ferrucci, who was running in third when the first full course caution at the 4.014-mile circuit in three years came out for fifth place Jack Harvey, who beached his No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda into the Turn 3 gravel on Lap 38.
This caution meant the money stop must be flawless from the moment a competitor enters in and exits out of pit lane. Ferrucci’s No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing w/ Vasser-Sullivan Honda ended up roadblocked by rookie Dalton Kellett, who was entering his pit lane.
Consequently, Ferrucci lost four spots following the check-up and a shot of his first NTT IndyCar Series podium was gone. The Connecticut racer finished in sixth, a spot ahead of Rahal, but kept his chin up knowing that he has a strong Honda for tomorrow’s race.
“Coming out of the pits after the last stop, we lost a lot of track position when another car turned straight from the fast lane across to his pit box, and I was forced to check up,” said Ferrucci. “We fought back from there to finish sixth. It was a blast to drive the SealMaster-Coyne Vasser-Sullivan car today, and I’m ready to take on tomorrow.”
The frustrated trio must put Saturday behind their rear view mirror and focus on Sunday’s 55-lap race to wrap-up the Road America doubleheader. Live coverage of the Race No. 2 of the REV Group Grand Prix commences at Noon EST on NBC.
Championship leader and Saturday’s winner Scott Dixon will look to equal Sebastien Bourdais’ 2006 and also join AJ Foyt (7-0 start in 1964) as the only competitors to start the season 4-0. A feat those three and the other 19 drivers would like to prevent from happening.