Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal in the No.15 Total Honda started Sunday’s 85 lap Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach from fifth place and made a great start to the event fighting with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud for a top three position going into Turn 1 however he made contact with the Frenchman punting the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion around.
The incident resulted in Rahal receiving a drive through penalty for avoidable contact. Rahal fought his way back through the field however to finish the event in fifth place just ahead of Marco Andretti.
Rahal has now moved into third place in the series points standings just eleven points behind second placed Josef Newgarden and 33 points behind leader Alexander Rossi.
Speaking following the race, Rahal commented by saying:
I’m sorry about what happened to Simon. That’s not how I like to do things. It’s just like St. Pete, the rears (tires) locked up and I barely made the corner. I think Dixon bailed out because he thought I wasn’t going to make it. It hurt my race too obviously with getting the penalty, having to go to the back and battle our way through. I think we had a car that could have had a shot at Rossi today. We made some changes for the race and the Total car was fantastic. I’m really disappointed in myself and disappointed in the way that it all began but I’m proud of the Total team for the way that it finished. We made a lot of passes today. I passed more cars here today that I have passed in a long time. We had a lot of fun but we want to win. Yes, it’s a good start to the year and with our United Rentals Turns for Troops program, we raised a lot more money. To be third and finish all the laps so far and finish in the top-five a couple of times and get a podium so far is good but this was our best weekend yet. We deserved to be there this weekend and that’s why it’s a little bittersweet.
It was a disappointing race for Rahal’s team mate and defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato in the No.30 MiJack/Panasonic Honda as the Japanese driver who started the race from 22nd place finished the event in 21st place.
Speaking following the race he commented by saying:
It was a tough race, but it was an exciting one. After the warm up, we made the decision that strategy is one thing, but you have to overtake a lot, so we changed the setup and it worked really well. I was able to overtake one by one. It was a strong car. In the end, we came back and got to sixth just by fighting without anybody’s help, so that was a strong result for us. Unfortunately, after the restart (Ryan) Hunter-Reay got a huge slide in Turn 5 and got grip back and came back towards me and I tried to avoid him. It was really light contact, but unfortunately, that damaged our suspension so we had to pit to replace it. It’s a big shame. It could have been a podium finish with the position we were in but we take some positives away.