By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AUSTIN, Texas – Entering the inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas, it had been 10 NTT IndyCar Series races since Graham Rahal had piloted his No. 15 TOTAL Honda into the top-five, dating back to June of last year.
Now that streak is broken after a fourth-place run in Sunday’s race on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.
Starting the day in 10th place, Rahal held steady in that position for roughly the first 10 laps of the race before climbing as high as second during green flag pit stops. Cycling back to 11th once pit stops were complete, it looked like Rahal had a top-10 finish well in hand if the race played out the way it was going with Will Power and Alexander Rossi holding onto the top two spots.
Then came the caution at lap 44 and the race was turned on its head. Having made his final pit stop just before the yellow flag flew, Rahal was among a number of drivers that had things roll their way, allowing them to move up the leaderboard while the leaders that had yet to pit had to give up their track position for service to their vehicles.
Rahal was able to move up to fourth place as a result and held serve for the remainder of the race to bank his best finish of the season.
“Clearly we got lucky there with that yellow,” Rahal said. “All of us up front at the finish got a little but lucky, but our car had pace all day. We just kind of kept battling with the same group and having to fight our way through the same sort of guys. Realistically, we were a top-five, top-six car no matter what.
“Our guys worked hard to get this TOTAL Oil car to the front. I think the pit stops were really strong today. We’ve got a lot of young guys on the pit stops and they did a great job in their first day. For one guy, his first weekend being thrown into the fire here a little bit and did a great job. We’ll all put our heads down from here.
“The great sign is all of us were competitive. We were competitive at St. Pete, we were competitive here. We couldn’t say that so much last year, so it’s a good start to the year.”
Throughout the day, there was hard racing to be seen on several different portions of the track, some that Rahal himself was involved in. After the checkered flag flew, he noted that it was an entertaining race behind the wheel and should have been for the multitude of fans in attendance as well.
“I don’t know how it looked from the outside, but to me there was plenty of passing,” Rahal said of the inaugural race at the track. “A lot of opportunities, a lot of big moves. If you were at the end of the back straightaway, I think you definitely got your money’s worth today.”
Rahal added that he was impressed with rookie Patricio O’Ward, who he had a thrilling battle with at one point in the race.
“Pato, he proved a lot to me today, which was nice,” he said. “He was very fair and actually I want to go see him and tell him that. I can’t say that I had that perception of him before and so I thought he did a great job and he was very clean and it was good racing.”
Along with Rahal bringing home a top-five, rookie Colton Herta scored his first career IndyCar Series win, breaking Rahal’s record as the youngest driver to ever win in the NTT IndyCar Series. Though his record had been broken, Rahal was one of the first to congratulate the 18-year old on his victory.
“Tip of the cap to him,” Rahal said. “Honestly, my record stood for a long time so I’ve got a lot to be proud of that. There’s been a lot of other good guys that came and had a chance to beat it. (Josef) Newgarden, O’Ward’s done a great job, fast kid, but Colton did a great job here.”