Graham Rahal drove a flawless race and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team employed perfect pit strategy to win Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Rahal’s second IndyCar Series victory of 2015 moves him to within nine points of leader Juan Pablo Montoya in the battle for the drivers’ championship, with two races remaining.
Making his fifth start of the season, Justin Wilson finished second for Andretti Autosport to give Honda a 1-2 finish at its “home” circuit, in front of some 15,000 Honda associates from more than a half-dozen manufacturing plants and support facilities in central and western Ohio among the large crowd in attendance.
Pit strategy played an important role in Sunday’s 90-lap contest on the hilly, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio circuit, as an early caution on Lap 21 resulted in the field splitting into two groups. Those who elected to pit during the caution – 12 of the 24-car starting field, including both Rahal and Wilson – put themselves in contention for the victory.
On Lap 68, just after this group made it’s third and final stop of the race, the caution flag waved for the second time. With their pit stops already complete, Rahal, Wilson, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon, among others, were positioned at the front of the field when the green waved again on Lap 69.
At the head of the pack, Rahal succeeded in maintaining his advantage, while Wilson held off Pagenaud for second. Rahal again held off an attack from Wilson following a brief caution flag with just ten laps remaining, then pulled away to a 3.4-second margin of victory at the checkers.
In addition to claiming the top two steps of the victory podium, Honda drivers also finished sixth through tenth to dominate the top of the Mid-Ohio box score. Tristan Vautier had his best result of 2015 to finish sixth, followed by Iowa race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, seventh, Jack Hawksworth in eighth, Detroit victor Carlos Munoz, ninth, and Marco Andretti rounding out the top 10.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now takes two weeks off before heading to Pocono Raceway in eastern Pennsylvania for the penultimate race in the 2015 championship and final round in the “triple crown” of 500-mile races: the Pocono IndyCar 500 on Sunday, August 23.
Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda) started 13th, finished 1st, his 2nd IndyCar Series victory of 2015 and 3rd career win: “This is a special day for my team and for Honda. Honestly, [even] if I’d won a lot of races in my career – but I never won this one – I think I’d be pretty disappointed. To win this one, you have no idea what it means to our family. For the Rahals, this track has been pretty special to us for so, so many years. It’s funny how this whole thing has come together: I’ve got the [Ohio State University] “buckeye” helmet, this is all amazing. I didn’t have any push-to-passes left on that last restart, so I was pretty nervous that [Justin] Wilson might get me. But the car was awesome, I was able to just absolutely gap anyone I needed to at the end.”
Justin Wilson (#25 Andretti Autosport Honda) started 14th, finished 2nd: ““It feels great to get a second place. I was pushing like hell to try and get past Graham [Rahal] on that [final, Lap 83] restart. I knew I couldn’t lean on him or bang wheels with him – he’s a Honda driver going for the championship, so that was in the back of my mind. At the same time I wanted to push him as hard as I could, make him honest and make him earn it. He did a fantastic job today. I had one more push-to-pass left, but Graham was too quick – all the credit to him today because he was on fire. We pushed as hard as we could. I have to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport and Honda for all the work they’ve done. I’m pleased to get Honda a 1-2 finish at its home track."
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s victory at Mid-Ohio: “Today was a great day for Honda. With this being Honda’s “home” track, it’s always gratifying to win here in front of so many Honda associates. Congratulations to Graham, Bobby and the rest of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team on their second victory of the season and heading into Pocono with some serious momentum. The team and everyone at HPD are working hard to continue our fight for the championship.”