Dominant Rahal takes Detroit R1 victory
3 June 2017 – Graham Rahal dominated the first race of the IndyCar Dual in Detroit, leading a career-high number of laps en route to a 6.1474-second victory over Scott Dixon.
Rahal's peerless two-stop strategy was in stark contrast to the three-stop of Hélio Castroneves which took the Brazilian from fighting for first to almost half a lap behind the winner.
Dixon, meanwhile, recovered from a terrifying crash in the Indianapolis 500 a week ago to finish second, despite having to wear a walking boot due to the accident. He said coming into the race that his ankle was still a bit sore, but it never showed during a solid run that elevated him from sixth to second and the series points lead.
Rahal had inherited the pole after IndyCar officials deemed that Castroneves had failed to slow down under a local yellow at the end of qualifying. His previous lap times were still good enough to lead the second of two groups in qualifying, allowing him to start second.
He gave chase to Rahal throughout the first stint, rarely drifting farther than half a second behind the pole-sitter, but their strategies diverged early on when the three-stop window opened first.
By the time Rahal came in for his first stop, Castroneves had actually jumped him on track, but it was only by a few lengths, negating a necessary gap to make the alternate strategy work. In fact, heading into the Brazilian's final service, he actually trailed Rahal by fewer than five seconds, dropping him to ninth in the order.
Rahal never seemed to put a foot wrong during the 70-lap event, at one point rattling off multiple successive personal best laps midway through his second stint.
Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato both looked poised to take over the second spot at various points in the race, but strategies pushed them down the order in favour of Dixon, Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe became the first car to go off-strategy after spinning and stalling the car in the first turn of the first lap. He soldiered on and adjusted a three-stop strategy to elevate himself into the top ten, but with just a few laps to go, he came under immense pressure from Newgarden for the final spot on the podium.
Mikhail Aleshin earned the title of the biggest mover in the race, finishing just behind Rossi in sixth after starting 20th. He was aided by an effective strategy and a timely caution that came out when Charlie Kimball spun and hit the wall whilst avoiding the stopped car of Conor Daly.
Daly had been enjoying a solid run up until that point at a track where he had previously had a great deal of success, but despite the safety team's best efforts, they couldn't get his car restarted.
Indianapolis 500 winner Sato, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones rounded out the top 10.
The win is the fifth of Rahal's career and also marks the seventh different winner in seven races to start the Verizon IndyCar season. It also caps off a solid weekend for Honda-powered cars, occupying seven of the top ten finishers.
1. Scott Dixon - 275 points
2. Hélio Castroneves - 273 points
3. Takuma Sato - 258 points
Qualifying for the second race of the Dual in Detroit takes place on Sunday at 10:45 local time (GMT-4) before a 15:45 race start for another 70 laps around the Belle Isle street course