Winner of one of three IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying heat races on Saturday, Graham Rahal took his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara-Honda to the front of the field Sunday at Iowa Speedway, challenging repeatedly and briefly leading the Iowa Corn Indy 250, before fading slightly in the final laps to a fifth-place finish.
Starting sixth in today’s 250-lap feature, it was apparent by mid-race that Rahal had a good-handling car for the tight confines of Iowa Speedway, as he was able to consistently run a high line, yet pass either high or low as needed. Simon Pagenaud, starting from eighth in the Schmidt Hamilton Racing Honda, also had a strong car, and the pair battled for position several times during the first 100 laps.
After the second round of pit stops on Lap 120, Rahal was solidly in second, running just behind eventual winner James Hinchcliffe, with Pagenaud in fourth and Honda-powered Scott Dixon, fifth. Rahal and Marco Andretti fought for second place through the third and final round of pit stops. But in the final 10 laps, the handling of Rahal’s Dallara appeared to deteriorate, leading to an eventual fifth-place finish.
Pagenaud frequently ran as high as fourth, and remained in the lead group for the duration of the contest, but lost two postions in the final laps to Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter, who pitted off-sequence earlier to have fresher tires for the final laps. Honda-powered Justin Wilson used the same strategy to lead five laps before finishing 11th. Dixon was another driver to run in the lead group, reaching fifth place on Lap 140 before fading with mechanical problems on his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Graham Rahal (#15 Midas/Big O Tires Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Dallara) started 6th, finished 5th, led for the first time this season, second top-five result in 2013: “The race was good. I didn’t quite have James’ [Hinchcliffe] speed today, but we were close. On the second set [of tires], the car came on for me and felt really, really magical. That’s when we went from 10th to second. I don’t know what happened at the end of the race; we just lost overall grip and struggled a little bit. Earlier in that stint, I was chasing Hinchcliffe down. But at the end of the race, I was losing a little bit of everything in the car, and Ed [Carpenter] got me.But I’m proud of my guys because, as I’ve said, the last few weeks haven’t been easy for us. I’m really proud of the engineering staff and everyone on the team. For everybody to keep coming back week after week with their chins up means a lot to me. I felt like I could have won the race today. I feel like I got robbed; I should have had a podium at least today, but we’ll take a fifth.
”Simon Pagenaud (#77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Racing Honda Dallara) started 8th, finished 6th: “We’ve really improved our short-oval program in recent weeks. We were really strong on restarts today, and the car was handling really well. At the end of the race, I’m not sure what we were missing, because the car was really hooked up. I had a blast today. The restarts were fun, the racing was fun, and it was just a great day of competition. From the cockpit, it was ‘back and forth, back and forth’ all the time, on the track. Then, going as hard as you could into pit lane, and out just as fast. Traffic played a big role in the race, but it was great to be up front on an oval today.
”Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: “Obviously we’re disappointed with the issues we had with the cars of Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon. We need to work hard and fast to find a resolution to those problems. We were very encouraged by the performances of both Graham [Rahal] and Simon [Pagenaud]. Graham drove a very strong race and looked like he could pass almost anyone for most of the day. It’s been a long, hard stretch of races for both our trackside group and the staff at HPD. Everyone has worked extremely hard for eight weeks solid. We’re now looking forward to this brief chance to recharge before going on to Pocono.”