Following a late-race battle for the final spot of the 2019 Grand Prix of Long Beach podium, Graham Rahal and Scott Dixon are in disagreement over the NTT IndyCar Series rules regarding blocking, after Rahal was penalised for illegally blocking Dixon on the last lap.
Rahal had held on to finish in third place but was dropped back to fourth place by the stewards shortly after the finish. Graham maintains that he did not do anything that was not in the rules, whilst Scott insists that Graham defended “in reaction”, which is against the rules.
As Sunday’s race entered it’s final few laps, the stage was set for an entertaining battle to the finish for the final spot on the podium. After dropping down the order following a slow pit-stop earlier in the race, Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Dixon was on a tear to try and get back onto the podium. After passing Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was struggling with fuel, with five laps to go, Dixon soon found himself on the back of third-placed Rahal; who was driving a solid race after having started in sixth place.
As the pair began their last lap of the race, Dixon was within half a second of Rahal and had the advantage of having over twenty-seconds of push-to-pass boost available. Rahal, on the other hand, had no boost left and was also struggling on his worn alternate tyres.
The pair were essentially nose-to-tail as the final lap drew to a close. Entering turn eight, Dixon closed right up to Rahal in the braking zone and was in a strong position to make a pass on the run down the back straight into turn nine. On the exit of the corner, Rahal moved from the racing line to the right side of the track to fend off a move from Dixon, who was also moving over to the right at virtually the same instance.
Dixon’s speed off of the corner saw get his front-wing alongside the rear of Rahal’s car, with the pair making slight contact as a result. Dixon lifted off the throttle to avoid further contact and thus lost the chance to overtake Rahal into turn nine. Rahal would keep Dixon behind him through the final few corners and ultimately crossed the line less than a tenth of a second ahead in a drag-race to the chequered flag.
Immediately after finishing the race, Dixon would show his displeasure at Rahal’s actions, gesticulating at Graham before asking IndyCar officials to look into Rahal’s defensive manoeuvres. Shortly after the pair had climbed out of their cars in the pits, it was announced that Rahal would be penalised for illegal blocking, thus putting him down into fourth place and Dixon onto the podium in third place.
Post-race, Rahal would reluctantly accept the penalty but would maintain that in his opinion he had done nothing that was against the rules.
“It’s not that tough [of a pill] to swallow; we were going to lose the spot anyway,” a frustrated Rahal said on Sunday, “My front [tyres] were absolutely gone. Those were used reds (alternate tyres). We should have gone to new blacks (primary tyres) there at the end. My tyres were absolutely shot.
“I had no braking grip whatsoever, but I moved right as quickly as I could out of the corner and then I gave him a lane. By the rules, you’re allowed to make your move, which I did on the exit of the corner. That was it. We’re just going to have to discuss it [with the officials].
“Look, I’m not like upset about it. We had a good day. Our car wasn’t great today, but it was decent and the TOTAL Oil team pushed hard. That’s all we can say. Did I block? Yes, I blocked; you’re allowed to block in this series. You’re allowed to make a move, I made a move. That’s allowed, I mean that’s allowed. I didn’t go back to the left; there’s a lane to the left. He had overtake [push-to-pass], I didn’t. If he wanted to go [there] he could go. But, I don’t know, we’ll discuss it with the officials.”
Rahal would go on to add that his frustrations were not with Dixon and that he would have tried the exact same overtake as Scott did in that situation.
“You would try the exact same,” Rahal continued, “there’s no doubt. I think I played the rules as I see them fit. Did I block? Yeah, I take full [credit]. Yeah, I blocked, but you’re allowed to in this series, and if they don’t want blocks, they should say you can’t make a move at all and just change the rule. The problem is, we see such large discrepancies in what is a block [and] what is not a block. It’s fine; we just need to go further and understand [the rule] a little better. At the end of the day, P4. Do we deserve P3? Probably, but you know what, it was a good day and good points for us. We haven’t had a lot of luck this season, so I’ll just take it as it is and move on.”
Whilst Rahal believed that what he did was perfectly within IndyCar’s rules and regulations, Scott Dixon was on the other side of the fence. In the past, IndyCar officials have maintained that drivers may make defensive moves ‘in anticipation’ of a move but must not move ‘in reaction’, meaning that any defensive moves must be made before a driver commits to an overtake. The New Zealander stated post-race that Rahal’s move was “in reaction” and that it was “unfortunate” that the race had to end with Rahal receiving a penalty instead of the position being decided on the track.
“It was unfortunate with the Graham Rahal incident,” Dixon said after the race, “I think he overshot Turn 8 and then quickly tried to turn in reaction, and you know the rule is you can’t come back to defend if somebody’s already there, and that’s what happened. I was on [overtake] and hit his rear tire and had to lift off. I lost my momentum and that also turns the overtake [push-to-pass] off, as well.
“It was just one of those things. Had he not reacted there we would have [passed him] anyway. But it’s racing, hard racing.”
After four rounds of the 2019 season, Scott Dixon currently sits third in the championship standings, thirty-three points off of championship-leader Josef Newgarden. Graham Rahal is further back in ninth place in the standings, seventy-six points off of the lead.
The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will continue in just under four weeks time with the start of the all-important month of May. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will take place on Saturday, May 11. After that, the focus will switch to the biggest race of the season, the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, which will take place on Sunday, May 26.