(FONTANA, CA) – An Indy car record 80 lead changes among 14 drivers culminated in a dramatic victory for American Graham Rahal in the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway. The victory was the second of Rahal’s career and ended a 124-race winless drought dating to 2008 in St Petersburg; the longest gap between race wins for a driver in Indy car history.
The 80 lead changes during the 250-lap event surpassed the previous Indy car record of 73 set at Auto Club Speedway in November 2001.
Rahal, driving the No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won under caution as the cars driven by Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay made contact battling for position coming to the white flag. The final restart was set up after a red flag was displayed on Lap 245 of 250 on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval after contact between the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driven by Will Power and the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda of Takuma Sato on the front stretch.
All drivers were checked at the infield medical center and cleared.
“Our weakness has been these ovals and I told the guys this morning that the next three races will define our year,” said Rahal, who qualified 19th. “It’s been so long coming. It’s awesome. I think the combination of down-force and tires made for multiple lanes of racing that was nerve-racking but exciting. (With) the width of this place, the guys were able to stay in their lanes.”
Tony Kanaan finished second in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Marco Andretti placed third in the No. 27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda.
“That was one of the most nerve-racking races I’ve ever been a part of, but I can’t be too upset with a podium finish,” said Kanaan. “We battled up front all day and the No. 10 was really quick. I was actually in the middle of a pass when that last yellow came out, so who knows what could’ve happened if we would’ve stayed green until the end.”
Juan Pablo Montoya finished fourth to extend his championship points lead to 46 over Power, but he wasn’t enthused with the race conditions.
“Honestly, I was not a fan of the racing we put on today. What I told INDYCAR yesterday was that we shouldn’t be racing like this,” Montoya said. “This is full pack racing and, sooner or later, somebody is going to get hurt. We don’t need to be doing this.
Rookie Sage Karam earned his highest finish of fifth in his nine-race Verizon IndyCar Series career at the track where he wrapped up the 2013 Indy Lights championship.
The first yellow came out on Lap 136 when the cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Briscoe made light contact on the backstretch. Five other caution periods followed, including two for debris.
“The Verizon Chevy team did a great job today, despite how tough of a day it was,” said Power, who led a field-high 62 laps but finished 19th. “When you have a pack race like what we had today, you have to take a lot of risks to gain track position. As exciting as it is, it’s intense at the same time.”
Rahal was 19 years, 93 days old when he won at St Petersburg and is still the youngest Indy car winner.
“It feels good, and is a big day for us. It shows that our rebound this season is legit,” said Rahal, who moved into fourth place in the season standings. “The team is why all of this has come together. Hopefully I can move on from here and not make it seven years until I win again.”
Next up on the IndyCar schedule is race 12, the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 in Milwaukee on July 12.