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Rahal's Fuel Gamble Comes Up Just Short for Honda at Sonoma

• Second for Hunter-Reay, third for Pagenaud keep both in the title chase
• Aleshin again leads rookie contingent
• Honda drivers claim seven of top-10 finishing positions

In a race featuring multiple fuel and tire strategies, a bold gamble by Graham Rahal and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan team allowed them to lead 18 laps of Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, but the bid by the second generation racer for his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory of 2014 came up just short, forcing him out of the lead and into pit lane for a splash of fuel with only three laps remaining.

The late stop dropped Rahal to an unrepresentative 20th-place result behind winner Scott Dixon, but fellow Honda drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud kept their drivers’ championship hopes alive by finishing second and third, respectively, in today’s 85-lap contest at Sonoma Raceway. Both go into next weekend’s season finale fighting for the title with series leaders Will Power and Helio Castroneves.

A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato was another driver to take advantage of early caution flags to go “off sequence” in his pit strategy, taking him from 20th on the starting grid to fourth at the checkers. Josef Newgarden contended for the lead throughout the first half of the race before fading slightly to finish sixth, while Mikhail Aleshin led the rookie contingent for the second race in succession, finishing seventh for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson maintained their own private battle throughout the race, with Andretti claiming eighth in the closing laps. Wilson then fought off Power and Sebastien Bourdais in the run from the final corner to the checkers to claim ninth.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads south to Los Angeles for the final race of 2014, the MAVTV 500, Saturday night, August 30, at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Simon Pagenaud (#77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda) started 13th, finished 3rd: “Sonoma is such a hard track to pass on, so we really made the race in the pits. The pit stops were awesome, and that’s what helped us gain so many positions. Our strategy was very frustrating, very tough for me. I had to save so much fuel, but in the end we made it past [Mike] Conway in the last corner for third, which is fantastic. This morning, I never thought we would be third. I’m delighted, and we’re going into Fontana with a chance at the title, which is very important to me and the team.”

Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) started 14th, finished 20th, led 18 laps before making a late-race pit stop for fuel: “The National Guard car was great today. We fought hard and obviously we passed the guys that we needed to pass and got to the front. Unfortunately, we came up short again. We’ll just have to keep working hard, and keep our heads down. We’ve got one more race to get the National Guard a win, and I hope we can do it. For a while I thought it might happen today. We were taking extreme measures [to stretch the fuel], and running with all kinds of stuff off to try to get an extra bit of fuel. It just wasn’t enough. I said to the team in the pre-race strategy meeting ‘Guys, a double, triple, or homerun doesn’t do anything for us now. Only a Grand Slam does.’ But we missed.”

Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “This was a good race for Honda, and many of our teams, with seven of the top-10 finishing positions. I feel bad for Graham [Rahal]; having to pit for fuel while leading, so close to the finish and after such an excellent performance, had to be tremendously disappointing. Congratulations to Ryan and Simon for their strong runs today to keep their championship hopes alive going into next weekend’s finale in Fontana, and thanks again to all of our associates at Honda Performance Development for their efforts this weekend.”

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