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Rahal dominates race one of IndyCar Belle Isle doubleheader

Graham Rahal said at the beginning of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear weekend that his team had uncovered a solid street-course car setup earlier this season. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver proved it today with a dominant victory in the first race of the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend doubleheader.

While other's gambled on the possibility of caution periods and went with a three stop strategy Rahal's team stayed conservative making only two stops as the 22nd Indy car race at Belle Isle tied a record for fewest full-course cautions (two) and set a new standard for fewest caution laps (six). Rahal's winning average speed of 103.015 mph is a race record.

Rahal led 55 of the 70 laps on the Raceway at Belle Isle Park's 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit. The 28-year-old Ohioan crossed the finish line 6.1474 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon to become the seventh different driver to win in as many series races this season. The second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix is scheduled for Sunday.

"Everything went according to plan today," said Rahal, who started from the pole position after capturing the Verizon P1 Award with a track-record lap this morning. "We were pretty in control.

"We've shown some speed at times this year, but we haven't had a lot of luck. Today, we had a combination of speed, the yellows didn't come out at bad times for us and we certainly had the pace. Pretty pleased with that and hopefully tomorrow we can do the same."

Driving the No.15 SoldierStrong / TurnsforTroops.com Honda, Rahal collected the fifth win of his 11-year Indy car career. It is Rahal's first triumph on a temporary street course since his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series victory at St. Petersburg in 2008, when he became the youngest winner in Indy car annals at 19 years, 3 months, 2 days.

It is also the first street-course victory by the Rahal team since co-owner Bobby Rahal won the inaugural Belle Isle race 25 years ago.

"It's always wonderful to see your son win or your team win, frankly," Bobby Rahal said. "To lead 55 out of 70 laps, that's pretty special.

"If you give Graham the car, he's going to be tough to beat. I think we saw that today. I don't think he could have driven any better, I don't think a statement could be made any stronger. This was our race."

Dixon persevered to finish second despite a painful left ankle, the result of his spectacular crash during the May 28 running of the Indianapolis 500. It is the 93rd career podium for the four-time series champion, breaking a tie with retired teammate and friend Dario Franchitti for fifth all-time. It is also his 36th career second-place finish, moving Dixon within one of tying Bobby Rahal for third all-time.

"It was a tough race no matter what," said Dixon, the driver of the No. 9 Camping World Honda who reclaimed the points lead by two over Helio Castroneves. "Physically for me it was tougher than normal. I think I was favoring a lot of things, but just so proud of the whole Camping World crew. They did an amazing job. The car was fast. I probably couldn't get the most out of it but we were kind of there. But it's great for points."

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver James Hinchcliffe recovered from a spin on the opening lap to go off strategy and finish third in the No. 5 Arrow Honda.

"Tires are the name of the game here," Hinchcliffe said. "To be able to get off the (Firestone alternate) reds after the spin in the first turn there played to our advantage.

"Then we got that yellow at the right time right after our (Lap 25 pit) stop. It put us up where we belonged and I think we showed that the No. 5 Arrow car had a lot of pace. To come back from that; the boys were great in the pits and really happy to grab a podium here today."

Team Penske's Josef Newgarden finished fourth.

"It was a pretty good day for us - pretty good points." said Newgarden "We obviously want a little bit more and I think we had more in the hum by Verizon Chevy. Fourth (place) is what we could get with the yellows and the way they played out today, but it's still a great run for us. It's a good top five - I wish we could have raced for the win a little bit better but we needed the race to play out differently. We didn't need that yellow - that caught us out. But a good day overall, we'll try to go for another good result and maybe a win."

Alexander Rossi of Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian placed fifth, putting five different teams among the top five finishers for the first time in a race this season.

"We weren't quick enough today. The top four were on another level. I think our first stint on reds was strong, but on blacks we slowed a little bit in speed. That's the thing with doubleheaders, we can learn from today and go into tomorrow with a better car."

Helio Castroneves who won the pole earlier in the day only to have that run nullified by caution flag violation finished seventh.

"That was really fun. The cautions didn't work out for us. I didn't save an ounce of fuel. The Hitachi Chevy was super fast. It's just unfortunate that we couldn't get to the front. It's pretty difficult to pass, so you need a few things to go your way and they didn't. I drove the heck out of that car today. The fun part is we get to go right back out there tomorrow."

Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was fast but got caught up in a three stop strategy that didn't pan out.

"Tough day." said Sato "We had a very strong qualifying in third and the start of the race we a good, clean start. We were holding position. Although the top two cars were very strong. We were starting from behind and we were struggling for pace on the reds in the first stint. After the yellows when the field changed the tires, it looks like they had more speed, so the team decided to go to the short stint. In the end, it cost us a little bit in terms of strategy and having three stops was tough. But the boys did a good job. We need to gather the data now to make the car fast and hopefully we have an even stronger race tomorrow."

Qualifying for Race 2 at Belle Isle starts at 10:45 a.m. ET Sunday and streams live on www.RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Coverage of the second 70-lap race begins at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Race results

06/04/17

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