Already removed from the spotlight when his teammate turned him from the provisional pole sitter to merely a front-row starter at the end of qualifying for the 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Graham Rahal had an even smaller share of the attention surrounding Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing come race day in Birmingham, Alabama.
Rahal ran second and kept Takuma Sato in his sights for the opening 17 laps but a slow first pit stop at that point dropped the American to the middle of the field, initiating a trajectory to the 23rd position out of 24 on the results sheet.
A throttle issue had revealed itself soon after the drop of the green flag and, beyond making a stellar starting position useless, reminded the second-generation driver of an experience earlier in the weekend.
“At about Lap 3, the throttle started to stick and I tried to make it hang on,” Rahal recalled. “We did, I don’t know, 15 laps that way. Finally, it was going to put me in a gravel trap or something, for sure; I was hanging on way too much.”
Rahal’s crew used all of 27 seconds to install fresh tires, pour in fuel and plug into the No. 15 One Cure Honda during its first pit lane visit of the day in an attempt to resolve the throttle sensor issue that was keeping Rahal on edge.
Come Lap 56, Rahal’s machine went from troubled to motionless as he stopped on track at the same time Max Chilton was punted off the entry to pit lane by Tony Kanaan, prompting INDYCAR to pause the race with a full-course yellow.
“The car just died, completely shut off,” Rahal said of the moment his third race day of 2019 ended. “We had this (problem) in qualifying. Luckily it was on my cool-down lap. … But these have to be connected.
“Last night, we changed the throttle pedal, we changed the sensors, we checked all the tuning. I don’t know, but it has to be something in the loom. It’s just a shame. One Cure — this whole team was working really good. Takuma and I were running away there at the start. I thought it was our day, man, I thought it was our weekend. Here and at St. Pete, with the flat — c’mon. At some point (our luck) has got to change.”
Rahal doesn’t have to wait long for a fresh start to a race weekend. He’ll take the green flag to begin the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach one week removed from his fiasco at Barber.