Race Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

BIRMINGHAM – The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama resumed today under partly cloudy skies but before it was over the skies opened up and the race finished in rain.

The weather didn’t dampen Matheus “Matt” Leist’s spirits though as he finished 12th which is his best finish of the season under challenging conditions. His ABC Supply Chevrolet was the third highest Chevy-powered car to finish with the Team Penske Chevrolets of Josef Newgarden winning and Simon Pagenaud placing ninth.

“We made some great progress from where we started the weekend, so I’m pretty happy with that,” said the 19-year-old rookie. “The car was good with the reds [Firestone alternate tires] in the race so I think we had good pace. We were running with Pagenaud, and when Dixon came in front of me he was not that much faster which means we made some progress from practice. Unfortunately, in the rain the car wasn’t as good, we were struggling with understeer so I couldn’t push as I wanted. If we look at where we started and where we finished, it was a good weekend. I’m happy for the ABC Supply team and myself. Onto Indianapolis.”

Leist started the race in 18th position and was running 10th when the call came to pit for rain tires. As different tire strategies came into play, some drivers stayed out longer before changing over and were able to gain track position.

“In retrospect, I probably could have left him out there another lap or so, but I wanted to play it conservatively,” said Larry Foyt afterwards. “When I saw Pagenaud and Newgarden pit, I thought we better come in too. It may have cost us a position or two but overall, I’m satisfied. I’m really pleased with the race Matt drove. We threw a lot of things at him this weekend and he handled it really well.”

Tony Kanaan was not as happy with his weekend which was fraught with problems. He never seemed to find the sweet spot in his car. Having to start last yesterday after his accident in qualifying, he quickly picked up five spots in the race and was able to capitalize on others mistakes to eventually climb to 14th. Then there was an electrical problem which took time to correct in the pits and he lost a lap.

When the race was resumed today, he started a lap down. In an unusual call, IndyCar issued a memo which allowed all cars to refuel before the start of the race. That call sealed Kanaan’s fate as there would be no opportunity for a wave around when the leaders pitted for fuel.

To compound matters, the team pitted him to top off his fuel after receiving written permission to do so. Apparently, Race Control never got the memo because they issued a drive-through penalty which Kanaan was forced to serve which only added to his frustration. Race officials are looking into the matter but the best the team can hope for at this point is an apology.

“There was not much to be done today starting the race one lap down, but we still got out there and gave it all we had,” Kanaan said after finishing 18th. “Our pit box system said that we were OK to pit before the green, so we came in before the flag but for some reason that I can’t explain we were penalized with a drive-through. After that we were two laps down so it was just a matter of bringing the car home in one piece. We had a very difficult weekend and I’m glad it’s over. Looking forward to Indianapolis.”

Following three-time Barber winner Newgarden across the line were: Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens and Sebastien Bourdais.

The ABC Supply team will be testing at Indianapolis Monday through Wednesday. On Monday, Indy 500 veterans will take to the track while the rookies and those drivers taking refresher tests will drive on Tuesday. On Wednesday there is an engine manufacturer’s test that the team is participating in.

The next race is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis which will be broadcast live on ABC on Saturday, May 12 starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.