Furious American driver Graham Rahal blasted Romain Grosjean as a “punk” and a serial offender for dirty racing tactics during a fiery Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Young gun Pato O’Ward was victorious at Barber Motorsports Park but somewhat overshadowed by the fireworks between between Rahal and fellow Honda driver Grosjean.
With four lapses to go, there was considerable contact between the cars as Grosjean jockeyed for position and Rahal cried foul over his radio (watch the video in the player above).
“That guy’s a punk! He hit me on purpose,” Rahal screamed.
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Frenchman Grosjean finished seventh, one spot ahead of Rahal, who later smacked his arm into teammate Alexander Rossi to demonstrate Grosjean hitting his car.
Grosjean denied hitting Rahal on purpose.
“No, no, no. It’s IndyCar, wheel to wheel action,” Grosjean said.
“We touched a couple of times, but it was good racing.”
That didn’t wash with Rahal as he watched a replay of the incident during an interview with the host broadcaster.
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“Look at that, look at how much room he has!” Rahal said.
“I’m just frustrated because this isn’t the first time. In St. Pete (in February), he hit everybody… as another driver in the series told me: ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks ,’ and he’s had this reputation his whole career in Europe and we’re learning his reputation quickly here.”
Rahal then put the blowtorch on IndyCar officials to better police Grosjean’s tactics.
“If race control doesn’t want to do anything, then they aren’t going to do anything. But when we go and punt him, they better not do anything to me. In the past, I’ve been penalized for a lot less than that.”
O’Ward, meanwhile, roared back into the championship picture with his first victory of the season.
He entered the season vocally unhappy about his current contract with Arrow McLaren SP, which has the popular Mexican signed until 2024 on team friendly terms.
O’Ward wanted more money, more assurances for his Formula 1 aspirations and a new contract.
But when his unhappiness began to hurt his on track performance, O’Ward made a conscious decision to compartmentalise his complaints and focus on his job.
The effort led to Monday’s win (AEST), the third of his career.
O’Ward used a strong outside pass of pole-sitter Rinus VeeKay after both pitted for fresh tires to take the lead then drive away for the victory.
The win broke a Team Penske stranglehold on this year’s IndyCar results.
“Man, it sucks to be at war within your own team, right? So I’m glad there’s been more positive talks for the future,” said O’Ward, who has agreed with McLaren on principle on an extension.
“I was tired of being 10th and 11th and fifth and I said: ‘let’s get a win under our belts so we can climb back into this championship race’.”
Penske drivers Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden swept the first three races of the season, all while O’Ward was pouting over his contract.
Spain’s Alex Palou, the reigning IndyCar champion and defending race winner at Barber, finished second for Chip Ganassi Racing and claimed the points lead from Newgarden.
New Zealand’s McLaughlin remains second overall after finishing sixth.
“It was pretty solid, our goal all year is to be top seven, just continue getting those points,” McLaughlin said on Stan Sport’s coverage.
“We didn’t lose one place, we just didn’t gain any points. I probably could have saved a bit more fuel in the middle of the race, maybe to cover (Scott) Dixon and Palou and I made my own mistake but I managed just to hold on. It was a bit of rally cross, Donkey Kong style, it was crazy.
“We had his (Dixon’s) measure towards the end but just very hard to pass once the tires got old. I was struggling to defend myself, I had a fair bit going on.”
Australian veteran Will Power continued his ultra-consistent season, rallying from 19th to finish fourth while six-time IndyCar champion Dixon was fifth for Ganassi.
Power is also fourth overall after four rounds.
“Really stoked to get the Verizon Chevy up to fourth man, I really didn’t expect to be that far up,” Power said.
“We were hoping for a top-10, that’s what we talked about in the strategy meeting but the good thing when you don’t qualify well, you have good tires. So we had good tires for the end there and we had a pretty good pace. Great strategy by the team and just a good effort all around, a really solid day.”
The series returns to action on May 15 (AEST) on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before the famed Indy500 on May 30.
“It is very tight at the front,” Power said.
“I’ve been around for so long, it’s my 17th year so I just know the game so well. It ebbs and it flows, you have your good and bad days, all you can do is your best. When you’ve got guys like Palou who’s just there every single race, he’s as solid as a rock and obviously my teammates as well… it’ll be interesting coming out of May, you’ve got that double points race for the 500 and that can make or break you because you’ve got a 33 car field.
“So if you have a DNF there that’s a huge hit on double points. So certainly aiming to get that one right.”
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