Rahal, Honda Run Second at Sonoma
- Strong close nets Rahal fifth in championship
- Hunter-Reay battles to fourth at the finish
- Rossi finishes fifth, claims series Rookie of the Year Honors
Hot temperatures and resulting tire wear led to a variety of race strategies in Sunday’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway, with Honda driver Graham Rahal coping best with the conditions to finish second, moving him to fifth in the championship after a strong end-of-season run that included a victory last month at Texas Motor Speedway.
Starting fifth, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team kept its driver on a three-stop strategy that proved to be the correct plan, as utilized by the top six finishers in the 85-lap contest. In the final laps, Rahal closed on eventual race winner – and 2016 series champion – Simon Pagenaud, but was not able to make a move for the victory. Still, the second place result, coupled with his win in Texas, second at Barber Motorsports Park and five additional top-five finishes, netted Rahal fifth in the championship.
Honda’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, appeared headed for a fourth-place finish but ran short of fuel, enabling his Andretti Autosport teammate, Ryan-Hunter Reay, to nab the position on the final lap. Fifth was still more than sufficient for Rossi to claim 2016 Rookie of the Year honors and finish ninth in the championship.
Finishing fourth, Hunter-Reay added to a 2016 tally that included three podium finishes and a pair of fourths to end the season 10th in the championship.
Video recaps from this weekend’s Honda Verizon IndyCar Series and Acura Pirelli World Challenge action at Sonoma, along with Honda sports car racing at the Circuit of the Americas, are being posted on the “Honda Racing/HPD” YouTube channel. Produced by the Carolinas Production Group, the video packages can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/HondaRacingHPDTV.
This weekend’s activities at Sonoma Raceway conclude the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series. The 2017 season gets underway on March 12 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Florida.
Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) started 5th, finished 2nd: “It’s been a weird year that had its ups-and-downs. But we’re proud to finish the season on the podium, and once again end up as the top Honda team. They’ve worked hard all year, and so has everyone on our team. It hasn’t always been easy, but days like today are a good way to wrap things up. I wanted to challenge for the win in the final laps, but every time I got close to [race leader] Simon Pagenaud, I got massive oversteer. It made more sense to consolidate second place instead.”
Alexander Rossi (#98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda) started 8th, finished 5th, Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion: “Today was good until the last corner. It’s heartbreaking to [run out of fuel] at the end. But it’s weird how this sport works; we won the biggest race of the year the same way. It’s just the way it goes sometime. Huge credit to the team for what we accomplished from St. Pete – where we struggled to stay on the lead lap and with a lot of other things – to where we are now and being at the front, legitimately. It was a pleasure to work with these guys and it’s easier to look back at things that could have been different, but that’s racing and I hope to show what I’m capable of in the future.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race and the 2016 IndyCar Series: “Winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May was historic for Honda, and certainly the highlight of our season. However, looking at the season as a whole, it was not as successful as we wanted or expected. Everyone at Honda Performance Development, our drivers and our partner teams worked incredibly hard throughout the season, and today’s race was typical. Graham Rahal and the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team fought hard, after a tough start to the weekend. Running only 20th on Friday, they turned it around and qualified an impressive fifth, then put together a nearly perfect race today. At HPD, we carry that same ‘never quit’ attitude, and I’d like to thank all our associates for their efforts this season. I’d also like to congratulate Simon Pagenaud for a superior season and a well-earned title. We’ll come back again in 2017 to continue to fight as hard as possible for individual race wins and the championship.”