By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Graham Rahal and Colton Herta went from having superb outcomes to ending up out of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park Sunday due to separate reliability issues and ended up 23rd and 24th respectively.
Herta, the new youngest winner in the history of the NTT IndyCar Series, who recently turned 19 on March 30, started ninth and was putting on a nice effort, staying in the top-10 until his day drastically changed when Herta reported that his No. 88 Harding-Steinbrenner Racing Chevrolet was starting to haywire when the motor was amiss.
Then on Lap 31, Herta brought his waning car into the pits to further assess not only motor problems, but also the fuel cell. Herta’s crew pushed his car behind the wall, ending a bid of scoring back-to-back victories, as the crew were looking for answers, including team president Brian Barnhart.
“We’ve lost fuel pressure in the engine, but we can’t identify why yet,” said Barnhart. “We looked inside and all the lines are connected and tight, so we’re going to start changing some components. The biggest thing we’re looking to do now is make sure we have that thing fixed before going to Long Beach.”
Barnhart added if the diagnosis were to be found, they’ll send Herta out for at least one or two laps, which they were able to do so and returned on track before 20 laps to go, trailing race leader and eventual winner Takuma Sato by 35 laps.
The Valencia, California native ran several laps but ended his afternoon in the pits and in just his fourth IndyCar start, ends up with his first career last-place result, 39 laps down. Adding another flesh to an already wounded afternoon came at the hands of the No. 88 team, as IndyCar assessed a warning and a post-race monetary fine for improper crew gear.
“It was a frustrating day. We had an issue that hampered us while on track. It was something that to do with the fueling causing the engine to keep cutting out,” said Herta. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the best of days.
“Thank you to all the No. 88 boys, they worked so hard during the race in order to get the car fixed. They got the car back out, which is very important because we got to learn some crucial information about the car. It really sucks, but at least we only have to wait a week before the next race.”
As a result of his last-place result, Herta dropped from second to fifth in the championship standings heading into the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach April 14. Despite this, Herta is thrilled of having GESS International, his primary sponsor at Barber, being onboard for the upcoming race as well.
“I just want to give a special thank you to everyone at GESS International; I feel very honored to be in the GESS RNG Biogas circle of drivers and I’m looking forward to having them on board for (Acura Grand Prix of) Long Beach. Super thankful for them,” said Herta.
Meanwhile at the front of the grid, Graham Rahal had a strong qualifying effort Saturday, starting alongside Rahal Letterman Laningan Racing teammate and pole sitter Sato. It marked the team’s first-ever front row start since Chicagoland Speedway in 2005.
Rahal’s action-filled afternoon started right out of the gate when he and Dixon made contact in Turn 5, with Rahal defending his second position, but it forced IndyCar officials reviewing the situation. Fortunately for the former youngest series winner, no further action was taken and his afternoon kept going.
Once pit stops kicked off, Rahal’s day started to decline when he pitted on Lap 19 as throttle issues plagued his service and with a dismal 26.9 second pit time, it was an uphill battle to climb from there.
As Sato dominated the field, Rahal’s afternoon came to an end on the 57th lap when entering the back straight, his No. 15 Honda lost power and stalled, bringing out the only full course caution of the afternoon.
The caution led to chaos entering the pit lane as Tony Kanaan ducked down and cut off Max Chilton, sending him nose first into the tire barriers. Chilton would continue on to finish 22nd.
“When that yellow came out for Rahal stopped on-track, we were coming straight into the pits putting us right back in the hunt, but (Tony Kanaan) ran us into the grass and into the wall at the pit entrance,” Chilton on the incident with Kanaan. “We had some front wing damage and lost a few laps, which obviously took us out of it completely. It was just really disappointing because with the fuel saving I did for the rest of the race, I think I was headed at least to an 11th place finish, if not higher.”
Meanwhile, Rahal’s retirement marked his third out of the last five races dating back to last season which took a toll on his outlook as he’d hope to have battled with his teammate for the race win, and explained the throttle issue truly began after qualifying second Saturday, which carried onto the race.
“About Lap 3, the throttle started to stick and I tried to make it hang on for 15 laps. Finally, it was going to put me in the gravel trap for sure because it was hanging on way too much,” Rahal explained. “Then the car completely died and we had this in qualifying. Luckily, it was on my cool down lap from the lap I went P2, but then these two had to be interconnected. Last night, we changed the throttle pedal, we changed the sensors and checked all the tuning.
“I don’t know, but it has to be something in the loom. It’s just a shame because this whole team was working awfully hard, and we were looking really good. Takuma and I were running away from the start, and I thought it was our day. I thought it was our weekend, but here and St. Pete, getting a flat tire it’s just, man, come on. At some point, it’s got to change.”