Hunter-Reay, Rahal Shine for Honda at Phoenix

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Hunter-Reay, Rahal Shine for Honda at Phoenix
• Outstanding start, re-starts highlight Hunter-Reay’s run
• Rahal makes largest gain of the night to finish fifth
• Ill-timed caution flags cost Hunter-Reay, Andretti and Rossi

An inspiring drive from Ryan Hunter-Reay Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway saw poor reward for his efforts at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, while Graham Rahal capitalized on every opportunity to produce a top-five finish in the first oval race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

A likely top-three finish for Hunter-Reay was stymied by caution flags that twice waved just after he had completed scheduled pit stops, dropping him well back in the field each time as his competitors took advantage of the yellows to make their own stops. The poorly-timed cautions negated an aggressive race start for Hunter-Reay that saw the Andretti Autosport driver gain five positions in the opening lap. Hunter-Reay continued to fight back throughout the 250-lap contest, making multiple passes for position on each succeeding re-start and surviving a late-race brush with the wall to finish 10th.

Rahal also had a strong race start and climbed through the field during the first half of the race, moving from 19th on the starting grid to sixth by the race’s Lap 125 mid-point. Rahal was able to both conserve fuel and maintain position through the remainder of the contest to net a fifth-place finish.

Two other Andretti Autosport drivers, Marco Andretti and rookie Alexander Rossi, also had likely top-10 finishes taken away by the same caution flags that hindered Hunter-Reay. Andretti dropped off the lead lap as a result of the second caution on Lap 120, to finish 13th, while Rossi was forced to make a stop for a cut tire while the pits were closed during a Lap 197 caution, resulting in a drive-through penalty and 14th-place finish.

Video recaps from Honda’s IndyCar Series at Phoenix are being posted on the “Honda Racing/HPD” YouTube channel. Produced by the Carolinas Production Group, the video packages can be found in the 2016 HPD Trackside Video Playlist at:

The Verizon IndyCar Series now heads to Southern California for the Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 17, with live television coverage again on the NBC Sports Network.

Verizon IndyCar Series Drivers’ Championship Standings (after 2 of 16 rounds):
1. Simon Pagenaud 83
2. Scott Dixon 79 (1 win)
3. Juan Pablo Montoya 74 (1 win)
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay 56
5. Tony Kanaan 54
6. Helio Castroneves 53
7. Graham Rahal 44
8. Mikhail Aleshin 43
9. Takuma Sato 43
10. Max Chilton (R) 39

Manufacturers’ Championship (unofficial total):
1. Chevrolet 213 (2 wins)
2. Honda 160

Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28 Andretti Autosport Honda) started 12th, finished 10th: ““We had two cautions – TWO of them [just after pitting] – that put us laps down. We just had a heck of a time out there. One of the best starts I’ve ever had, some of the best restarts I’ve ever had, and to come away from it with 10th is a pretty dejecting result. We should have finished second tonight. You have to move on and keep a good attitude about it. I wanted a better result for DHL and Honda, but racing is like this sometimes.”

Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) started 19th, finished 5th: “I knew I had to make up a bunch of spots in the first few laps. I got a good start and got a couple of positions on the first lap and another when Luca [Filippi] dropped back. I felt decent about that, I was just trying to close the gap. The frustrating thing is that I felt like I had the best car out there. I could catch everybody, but I just couldn’t pass at all, so I started to save fuel. We got two yellows and it helped a lot. Getting the points we did for fifth place helps us in the standings for sure. We’re going to keep challenging and pushing hard.”

Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on tonight’s race: “Sometimes you’re the bug, other times you’re the windshield. That pretty much sums up our race. We know we have to do a better job for our teams in qualifying, to give our drivers a better shot at winning, especially at tracks like this. Ryan Hunter-Reay had one of the fastest cars on the track, and was by far the most aggressive driver at the start and re-starts. He passed more people than anyone else, and appeared headed for a great result. Only the two yellow flags, both just after pitting, dropped him to an unrepresentative 10th-place finish. Congratulations to Graham for making the biggest improvement tonight, from 19th on the grid to fifth in the race, it was another determined performance from the Rahal organization.”