There have been dominant runs during the two-leg Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix format since it debuted in 2013, but none quite like what was witnessed this weekend.
Mired back in 15th-place on the Verizon IndyCar Series standings entering Friday practice in the Motor City, Graham Rahal reverted to the form that made him the top Honda points scorer the past two seasons. He dominated from the pole position to earn the first leg on Saturday, and on the following afternoon, the popular Buckeye state competitor used a rock solid opening stint to jump from third to the lead to complete only the second sweep of a doubleheader event in series history. Scott Dixon orchestrated the feat at Toronto’s Exhibition Place in 2013.
The performance in Motown is a stark reversal from Rahal’s thoughts entering the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The second-generation pilot claimed at the time that his single-car operation at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing could no longer compete against the multi-car operations from Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti. The view was understandable in a sense. Since edging out James Hinchcliffe to win the Texas 600 last fall, the United Rentals Honda chauffeur had opened the 2017 slate with only one top-ten finish, a tenth at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Flashes of his more successful form were present at the Brickyard last month. Despite a poor qualifying effort in the IndyCar Grand Prix, the No. 15 Honda was able to reach the sixth spot at the checkered flag. The run is notable considering the event went flag-to-flag without a full course caution to close up the pack. The 101st Indianapolis 500 two weeks later was also an effective exercise, as Rahal managed to reach the front of the field near the halfway mark, before settling for 12th.
Still, many raised eyebrows when the top American prospect secured the Verizon P1 Award on Saturday morning at Belle Isle Park. The doubters were silenced as Rahal outdueled Scott Dixon to take the win. Sunday was a more convincing performance, as the tenth-year veteran overcame Andretti Autosport front row qualifiers Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay to take the top spot at Lap 30. Not even a late caution caused by James Hinchcliffe and Spencer Pigot’s stalled machine could deny him. On the restart with two laps to run, Rahal pulled away from Josef Newgarden to secure the second event.
With the second of three double-points race weekends in the rear-view mirror, a third straight top-five point showing for Graham Rahal at season’s end is now within range. Headed back to Texas Motor Speedway next week, the Ohio-native is now ranked sixth in points, only 52 markers behind Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon.
Rahal’s outputs have in-part followed a similar reversal of fortune for Honda Performance Development this season likewise. Last season, HPD only found the winner’s circle twice in 16 attempts. Already this season, the Japanese manufacturer has won five of the opening eight rounds and has taken three consecutive Verizon P1 Awards.
However, the biggest benefactor of Rahal’s recent trend upward has been Turns For Troops, a program that donates $50 for every lap the No. 15 Honda leads this season. The charity supports the larger SoldierStrong organization, which seeks to aid the rehabilitation of military veterans injured in action overseas. The project has been featured on the RLLR entry for all three of the Ohioan’s top-ten finishes over the past four weeks.
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