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Finally Graham Rahal won a race on his home track after seven previous starts at Mid-Ohio and nary a podium to show for them. Inheriting the lead after pitting just as a caution flag came out, Rahal determinedly held on for his second win in what’s already his best ever season in IndyCar. Unfortunately Courtney Force wasn’t on hand for her fiance’s big day yesterday, as she brightens up any venue she attends. But who can blame her for skipping Mid-Ohio though, really?
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During the pre race show Katie Hargitt interviewed Graham Rahal about “growing up at Mid-Ohio.” Graham mentioned remembering camping there as a youth, seamlessly worked in his sponsor Steak ‘N Shake and spoke of generally “terrorizing the place.” We wonder why there are never any Maxim references from Rahal. His helmet for the race resembled the Ohio State Buckeyes football headgear, right down to the buckeye stickers awarded for good play. Graham mentioned he wanted to introduce helmet stickers to his pit crew for performance, citing “competition.” It must have worked, as his crew performed well all day long.
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Coming off an American sweep in Iowa, Mid-Ohio was packed in anticipation of a home town hero emerging and the fans weren’t disappointed. NBCSN’s competent coverage on CNBC included all the usual angles, as Katie Hargitt also interviewed Sage Karam, asking him about the recent dust-ups with Ed Carpenter and Graham. Sage first played the pity card before calling Rahal out.
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“I think a lot of people are picking on the rookie, to be honest. Whenever there’s a guy that’s fast and coming up and he’s young there’s an intimidation factor. Yeah, I raced Ed hard. . . . I gave Graham the racing line and of course Graham being Graham he gets on Twitter and first thing he does is Tweet me. So, I wish he would come to my trailer and just talk to me, but I don’t know how that would go for Graham.”
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The race started cleanly if not in a very orderly manner as the dreaded first lap pileup was avoided for a change. Will Power immediately dropped several positions and eventually left the track on lap three. Problem was when reentering the racing surface he hit Charlie Kimball sending him into the gravel trap with a flat tire, effectively ending both their days. Incredibly there was no penalty announced for the collision in a clear cut case of avoidable contact, though Power‘s slim championship chances evaporated rapidly in the bright sunshine.
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The restart on lap seven was frantic, though Dixon fended off Bourdais and the rest settling in for what looked like another Ganassi processional at Mid-Ohio. Then the fateful caution occurred and Rahal – who started thirteenth – took the lead after his well timed pit stop, pulling out to a comfortable margin. Ultimately he took an emotional surprise victory with his dad Bobby acting as spotter on the radio. Coming off two top five finishes prior to Sunday, he pulled to second in the championship a mere nine points behind a suddenly struggling Montoya.
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The new LED system – what we’ve termed diode displays, or DDs for short – proved to be popular with the fans and even looked all right on television, adding useful information like pit stop times and push to pass engagement. Happily the new rain tires didn’t make their debut, although moisture may have livened the racing up a bit. David Hobbs, Leigh Diffey and Townsend Bell handled the race call fairly well with few mistakes. Hobbs adds a light, Python-esque quality to the broadcasts with a quaint air of being lost and that wonderful British accent of his. As the field spread out during the middle of the race and Mid-Ohio assumed its predictable parade like racing, the only battles on track were when cars exited pit road and reentered the fray.
Dreaded “fuel strategy” as usual became the story on the undulating road course, though contact between Coletti, Kimball, Gonzo and Sato among others almost kept things entertaining. AJ Foyt Racing’s Larry Foyt told Sato over the radio that they were “out of parts,” and as a result Sato became the first to retire. Justin Wilson for Andretti Autosport raced Rahal hard right through the last restart, finishing an impressive second in his part time role.
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IndyCar is reviewing the questionable spin by Karam which occurred by himself at an opportune time for his team mate Scott Dixon, though again no in race penalties were called. In the end it didn’t end up affecting Rahal’s race, though it certainly won’t help relations between the two burgeoning rivals. While the race had its moments and provided a new hometown winner, it was still typically parade like and Mid-Ohio remains one of the worst tracks the series visits. At least there’s an American in the championship hunt with two races to go. Graham deserves it after the amazing year he’s had – it’s just Graham being Graham.
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