After a series of late-race cautions bunched the Verizon IndyCar Series field for the closing laps Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, Graham Rahal passed fellow Honda driver James Hinchcliffe on the final lap to win the Firestone 600 by just eight-thousandths of a second, the closest finish in the history of the 1.5-mile oval.
Saturday night's event marked the resumption of the race that started on June 12, but was halted by rain after 71 of the scheduled 248 laps had been completed. At the time of the red flag, Honda drivers ran 1-2-3, with Hinchcliffe leading, followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay in second and Mikhail Aleshin, third.
At the restart, Hinchcliffe dominated, steadily building a advantage of as much as 10 seconds over the field, led a total of 188 laps in the combined event, and additionally was able to extend his tire life to pit as much as 10 laps more between pit stops than his competitors.
A pair of late-race crashes that eliminated several cars, but resulted in no serious injuries, then set up a final, eight-lap dash to the checkers. Hinchcliffe's Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team elected not to pit and give up the lead, leaving him with the task of holding off a half-dozen other drivers who had all pitted during either the Lap 224-229 or Lap 232-239 cautions.
Still, Hinchcliffe was able to fend off all challengers, until Rahal successfully made a dive to the inside in the final turn, and edged ahead to claim victory in a near photo finish and a 1-2 result for Honda.
Video recaps from this weekend's Honda racing activities at Texas Motor Speedway are being posted on the "Honda Racing/HPD" YouTube channel. Produced by the Carolinas Production Group, the video packages can be found in the 2015 HPD Trackside Video Playlist at: https://www.youtube.com/HondaRacingHPDTV.
With the completion of tonight's Firestone 600, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to natural terrain road courses for the final two races of the season, starting with the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen, September 4 at Watkins Glen International Raceway in New York.
Graham Rahal (#28 Andretti Autosport Honda) started 13th, finished 1st, 1st win of 2016, 4th career Indy car victory: "I had to set that [last lap pass] up. James [Hinchcliffe] did a great job tonight. In all honesty, he deserved to win this thing; he led from start to finish. You've just got to lead that last lap. I knew I couldn't get him on the high side. We had a hole underneath 'Hinch' and we had to take it. I had to set him up and get him thinking I was going high and then cut across. I'm so proud of this Penn Grade team and thankful to everybody that supports us like Steak 'n Shake, United Rentals, Hyatt and more. It means the world to me. In all honesty I was thinking about [Bryan] Clauson, but more importantly I was thinking about Justin [Wison]. He and I had a great battle here a few years ago [in 2014], and he got me at the end. I kept thinking about him the last few laps. I definitely miss that guy. He was a great human being and a hell of a race car driver."
James Hinchcliffe (#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) started 10th, finished 2nd, led 188 laps: "It was a tough finish, for sure. It was a great race. The Arrow Electronics Honda was just a rocket ship. We built the thing to be good over a tire stint, which is always the name of the game here in Texas, [minimizing] tire degradation is key. We haven't had a late-finish, three-wide battle here in Texas since 2011. It was tough. We kept a lot of guys at bay. Like I said, we really built the car for long runs and on those restarts we kept them at bay a couple times but ultimately, Graham [Rahal] and TK [Tony Kanaan] stopped for tires and I think that was kind of the difference maker. It's a tough call but huge credit to the Arrow Electronics boys because the car really was a rocket and congrats to Graham. It's a lot of fun racing up there with those guys and I think we put on a much better show for the fans than we would've if we were leading by half a straight. We'd have liked [a big lead] better, but we're here to put on a good show."
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on tonight's race in Texas: "Tonight's race had a little bit of everything. A dominating performance from James Hinchcliffe for the majority of the race, followed by a multicar battle over the final 20 laps that had the fans on their feet and all of us in pit lane holding our breath! The skill shown by Graham [Rahal] as he was 'pin-balling' between cars at more than 200 mph was equally exciting and terrifying. He drove brilliantly to snatch the win from 'Hinch' on the final lap. Either driver would have been a deserving victor, and we congratulate both the Schmidt Peterson and Rahal Letterman Lanigan teams for their efforts tonight to bring Honda a 1-2 finish here in Texas. Races like this help make all the incredibly hard work performed by HPD over the past year worthwhile."
Source : prnewswire.com