Ra­hal sur­vives pack rac­ing of Fon­tana for 2nd win

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY JOHN MAR­SHALL

Graham Ra­hal avoided a penalty de­spite driv­ing out of pit road with part of his fu­el­ing mech­a­nism at­tached and held on through a wild fin­ish for his sec­ond ca­reer IndyCar vic­tory.

Any other day, that would have been the big news.

Af­ter a fre­netic day of rac­ing that cul­mi­nated with Ryan Briscoe hurtling through the air at the fin­ish, all the driv­ers wanted to talk about was sur­viv­ing.

Ra­hal ended a 125- race win­less streak by tak­ing the check­ers at Auto Club Speed­way on Satur­day, but there was more crit­i­cism of IndyCar than praise for the third- gen­er­a­tion driver af­ter a white- knuckle day of pack rac­ing around the 2- mile oval.

IndyCar man­dated changes on aero kits for the 500- mile Fon­tana race, ex­ert­ing more down­force on the cars in hopes of com­bat­ing high tem­per­a­tures that were ex­pected to turn Auto Club Speed­way slick.

Montoya was among the most vo­cal op­po­nents to the ex­tra down­force, say­ing it would lead to the type of pack rac­ing that is en­ter­tain­ing for fans, but dan­ger­ous to the driv­ers.

IndyCar driv­ers have lamented pack rac­ing since two- time In­di­anapo­lis 500 cham­pion Dan Whel­don was killed dur­ing the high- speed sea­son fi­nale at Las Ve­gas in 2011, say­ing it leaves lit­tle mar­gin for er­ror at ex­tra- high speeds.

IndyCar has tried to walk a fine line at its big ovals, want­ing to pro­duce ex­cit­ing races with lots of pass­ing while keep­ing the driv­ers safe.

Af­ter three cars went air­borne in prepa­ra­tion for the In­di­anapo­lis 500, IndyCar made a se­ries of rule changes de­signed to keep the cars on the track.

It worked for the Indy 500, and for the oval race at Texas. But the race at Texas was cau­tion- free and lacked the ex­cite­ment that fans look for dur­ing oval races.

Most of driv­ers Satur­day be­lieved the se­ries crossed the line at Fon­tana, par­tic­u­larly af­ter a day bump­ing, bang­ing and driv­ing up to five wide at 200 mph was capped off by Briscoe go­ing air­borne af­ter col­lid­ing with Ryan Hunter- Reay with two laps left.

Both driv­ers were OK af­ter the wreck that sent Briscoe hurtling into the grass — a lit­tle over a month af­ter he re­placed James Hinch­cliffe fol­low­ing a near- fa­tal crash dur­ing Indy 500 prac­tice.

The race was cer­tainly en­ter­tain­ing from a fan’s per­spec­tive, with cars sling- shot­ting past each other at an av­er­age of 205 mph and rac­ing up to five- wide.

The race eclipsed the sea­son high for lead changes — 37 at In­di­anapo­lis — by the mid­point and had 80 over­all, top­ping the IndyCar record of 73 set at Auto Club Speed­way in 2001.

It also in­cluded 14 dif­fer­ent lead­ers, the last one be­ing Ra­hal, who started 19th and avoided penalty for a mid- race pit- road foulup to win for the first time since his inau­gu­ral vic­tory at St. Peters­burg in 2008.

Tony Kanaan fin­ished sec­ond, Marco An­dretti was third and Montoya fourth. It cer­tainly was dicey. Driv­ers be­gan swap­ping spots from the drop of the green flag, some­times go­ing four- wide around the corners. Much of the ac­tion was up front, with 32 lead changes in the open­ing 100 laps.

De­spite the chaos, the first cau­tion didn’t come un­til the lap 136, when He­lio Cas­tron­eves went into the wall af­ter be­ing squeezed be­tween Power and Briscoe.

Cas­tron­eves, who en­tered the race fourth in points, led the most laps to that point ( 43), but was un­able to re­turn af­ter the crew tried to fix his car. The chaos got worse af­ter that. Cars darted and dashed around each other at more than 200 mph, oc­ca­sion­ally touch­ing tires in what looked like videogame rac­ing at times. The cars went five wide with less than 50 laps left and there were two rows of four- wide rac­ing a few min­utes af­ter that.

Power took the lead af­ter a cau­tion with 30 laps left, but Briscoe went around him. Ra­hal man­aged to squeeze past Briscoe by inches just be­fore Power and Takuma Sato came to­gether with nine laps left, bring­ing out a red flag. The drama still wasn’t fin­ished. With Ra­hal try­ing to hold off chal­lenges from sev­eral driv­ers, Briscoe came to­gether with Hunter- Reay, send­ing his No. 5 car sail­ing through the air. The nose of Briscoe’s car came down hard in the grass and sent him spin­ning through the air be­fore com­ing to a rest.

Briscoe gave ev­ery­one a sigh of re­lief when he flashed the thumbs up from the cock­pit, but it didn’t quiet the de­bate af­ter the race.

AP

Graham Ra­hal, cen­ter, cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the IndyCar auto race at Auto Club Speed­way in Fon­tana, Cal­i­for­nia, Satur­day, June 27.

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