Rahal Victorious In St. Petersburg Street Brawl

ST. PETERSBURG – Graham Rahal weathered adverse weather and intense competition to score an upset victory in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the second race of the 2008 IndyCar Series season.

The 83-lap race around the twisting 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course started in the rain, which caused numerous incidents in the opening laps. As the rain tapered off, teams switched from rain to slick tires and a variety of race strategies played out. The race ended in dry but very overcast conditions.

Heavy rains fell shortly after the race ended.

With his victory, Rahal became the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing at 19 years and 93 days. Also, he became the fourth driver to win an IndyCar race in his first start. A year ago, he did garner a second place in his Champ Car rookie season.

“It felt good to go by the start-finish line and win the race,” the well-spoken teenager said. “Even though Helio (Castroneves) was behind me, I knew we had the pace to beat him as long as I didn’t over-drive it, so I wasn’t too worried about him. I was just sitting in the car thinking, ‘Please, just let this race come to an end.'”

After building up a commanding lead, Rahal’s team cautioned him to conserve fuel and two late-race yellow flags worked to his advantage.

Bobby Rahal, proud father of the winner, couldn’t control his grin in victory lane. “What a job he did. To come out like this is wow!” the elder Rahal said. “He’s a pretty cool customer.”

Rahal drove the Hole in the Wall Camps Honda fielded by Newman Haas Lanigan Racing. The acclaimed team took its 106th victory.

The winner started sixth but dropped to 18th after tangling with Will Power in the early going. After recovering, Rahal began his move to the front and powered into the lead on the 65th lap, passing Ryan Hunter-Reay, who drives for Rahal Letterman Racing.

Helio Castroneves, seeking his third consecutive victory at St. Petersburg, danced his way through the puddles and was pulling up on the winner when the race ended due to television’s time constraints.
“It was so close, but second place is good,” he said. “My team did everything they could to get that car out front, but it was really pushing in the slow section of the track. As for the winner, I am kind of happy for them and I think is very special for them and for motor sports.”

Fast qualifier Tony Kanaan was the early leader but dropped back after pitting earlier than the other contenders. In the closing laps, he moved smartly from eighth place to a strong third position at the end. “It was fun,” he said. “There were all sorts of weather conditions and strategies going on. Third place is not bad, particularly after (wrecking) last week at Homestead.”

Fourth place went to Venezuelan Ernesto Viso, who powered from 18th to the lead before dropping back as the race wound down. “I loved the race, as the track went from wet to dry to cool.” He led 12 laps.

Enrique Bernoldi fought gamely to take fifth place.

Sixth through tenth went to Hideki Mutoh, Oriol Servia, Power, Justin Wilson and Danica Patrick. Patrick dropped to the rear of the field twice after spinning two times in the same spot in the rain.

Six of the top 10 drivers were newcomers to the IndyCar ranks.

Accidents shortened the races of Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe, Vitor Meira, Townsend Bell and Franck Perea. Marco Andretti exited after a half-shaft snapped in his car.

Six full-course yellow flags slowed the event for 29 laps.

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