Bang-bang fin­ish: Indy driv­ers up­set af­ter crash-filled Fon­tana race won by Ra­hal.

Ra­hal wins crash-filled IndyCar event that has driv­ers rail­ing against dan­gers of pack rac­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Alex Shultz alexan­der.shultz@latimes.com

Graham Ra­hal won for the first time in seven years, but the broader themes of Satur­day’s MAVTV 500 in Fon­tana were par­ity and pack rac­ing.

There were 80 lead changes at Auto Club Speed­way, break­ing the IndyCar record of 73 set in Novem­ber 2001. The close com­pe­ti­tion led to some ex­cit­ing mo­ments, in­clud­ing when Ra­hal eclipsed Tony Kanaan at the fin­ish line, but also pro­duced some dan­ger­ous crashes.

The scari­est crash oc­curred on the fi­nal lap, when Ryan Briscoe and Ryan Hunter-Reay tan­gled and Briscoe’s car went air­borne. Both driv­ers emerged un­scathed, but Kanaan, who won this race last year, didn’t hold back in his as­sess­ment of how the sparsely at­tended race un­folded.

“We can’t for­get that we lost my best friend in ex­actly the same way in 2011,” Kanaan said, re­fer­ring to Dan Whel­don, who died at age 33 af­ter a col­li­sion dur­ing a 2011 IndyCar race in Las Ve­gas. “I un­der­stand what the fans want. If you say we’re go­ing to have 100,000 peo­ple and this is what we’re go­ing to do, I might agree with you that we need to put it out there. To have 5,000 peo­ple out there and do this, it’s stupid.”

In a testy fol­low-up with a re­porter who asked why it mat­tered how many fans were in the stands, Kanaan replied, “Are you risk­ing your life out there? You’re not. You’re sit­ting in a chair and writ­ing about it. So once you feel this way, and you lose your best friend, you might say some­thing like that.”

Kanaan’s gripe — that the cars had too much down­force, caus­ing driv­ers to be clus­tered to­gether — was echoed by Will Power, who was in­volved in a crash with Takuma Sato on Lap 241.

“I’m just so happy that no one was re­ally hurt,” Power said dur­ing a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view. “Some­one’s got to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for how this turned out. As ex­cit­ing as it is, it’s in­sane. You can­not get away, and you have to take mas­sive risks to gain track po­si­tion. That’s crazy rac­ing. Crazy, crazy, crazy.”

Ra­hal took a de­cid­edly more up­beat tone af­ter his sec­ond ca­reer IndyCar vic­tory, brush­ing off com­plaints about driver safety.

“Look, I think it’s rac­ing,” he said. “You know, we have taken our­selves to a place over the last few years where we’ve re­duced the down­force so far that we couldn’t even race.”

Ra­hal’s win, his first in 125 races, moved him to fourth place in the IndyCar stand­ings, be­hind Juan Pablo Montoya, Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is a big, big deal for us.” Ra­hal said. “To kind of re­bound the way we have all sea­son, this feels good to win for sure . . . but it’s been a good year. We’ve shown that it wasn’t a one-hit won­der.”

It was hot as al­ways at the MAVTV 500, though a de­cent amount of cloud cover made the 123-de­gree track tem­per­a­ture slightly more bear­able.

For the first 135 laps, there were no crashes and no yel­low cau­tion flags. That changed when He­lio Cas­tron­eves was caught be­tween a surg­ing Briscoe and Power. Cas­tron­eves made con­tact with Briscoe and spun out.

“It was a long ride go­ing side­ways,” Cas­tron­eves said in a TV in­ter­view.

Cas­tron­eves at­tempted to re­join the race af­ter he and his team ex­am­ined the dam­age to his car, but bowed out shortly there­after. Briscoe was as­sessed a drive-through penalty for avoid­able con­tact.

Another col­li­sion oc­curred 24 laps later, be­tween team­mates Ed Car­pen­ter and Josef Newgar­den. Car­pen­ter ran out of room and sent both cars into the outer wall.

Marco An­dretti fin­ished third and Montoya was fourth, while pole win­ner Si­mon Pa­ge­naud ended up ninth. Pa­ge­naud, who dropped out of the top spot al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter the race be­gan, threat­ened to re­take the lead at var­i­ous points but was un­able to race at the front of the pack for sus­tained pe­ri­ods. He wasn’t alone; main­tain­ing the lead didn’t come easily Satur­day. Luck­ily for Ra­hal, he grabbed it when it mat­tered most.

Will Lester As­so­ci­ated Press

THE BACK END of Ryan Briscoe’s car dis­in­te­grates af­ter his col­li­sion with Ryan Hunter-Reay on fi­nal lap.

Will Lester As­so­ci­ated Press

GRAHAM RA­HAL edged Tony Kanaan for first win in seven years.

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