LEXINGTON, Ohio — Nothing can compare to last year, when Graham Rahal came home the way he had always dreamed of as a kid to win for the first time at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
On Sunday, The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio defending champion didn’t threaten the leaders, but his determination was rewarded with a fourth-place finish. In a frustrating Verizon IndyCar Series season where the winless Rahal has one second, one third and now three fourths, he didn’t consider the outcome a bad day.
“It’s a good run. I’m not disappointed one bit,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda. “I’m a little bit frustrated we couldn’t be a little bit better. We obviously wanted to win today. But I think we got the absolute most out of this thing.
“The first yellow kind of hurt us. That’s how (third-place finisher) Carlos (Munoz) got into the game. Unfortunately, that’s how racing goes sometimes. (I was able to) rebound nicely today and good points.”
Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Will Power finished 1-2 to widen their points advantage on the rest of the field. Pagenaud has now won a series- and career-best four races this season.
“Everything this year is going Pagenaud’s way,” said Rahal, who improved two spots to ninth in the points, although still not as good as his career-best fourth a year ago. “Sometimes when it’s your year, it’s your year. Last year was a good year for us.”
The No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda started sixth, but dropped back at the start and stayed there for much of the 90-lap race on the 2.258-mile road course. He appeared to be staring at sixth place in the final laps, but then the two cars in front of him, driven by Sebastien Bourdais and Takuma Sato, bounced off each other and off track.
“We had more pace than them,” Rahal said, “but I didn’t think I was going to be able to get by both. Bourdais was very, very, very fast on the straights compared to me.
“We’ve still got to find some speed. We were really slow in the (speed) traps all weekend, which is kind of strange. I think that’s from being behind a lot of guys in the race. I think that’s where our time loss is, just purely straight-line speed. I don’t know why.”
Rahal, who is from New Albany outside Columbus about an hour’s drive from Mid-Ohio, wore a racing helmet and driver suit with scarlet-and-gray Ohio State Buckeyes colors. As he slowed on the cool-down lap, local fans stood and cheered.
“I’ve raced all over the world and the fans here are amongst the absolute best, if not the best,” he said. “The turnout is always amazing. We can’t thank you guys enough for the support. It means a heck of a lot to myself, my family and everybody in Indy car racing is real appreciative.”