By: Spencer Neff
March 26, 2020 | 9:23 AM
Due to the global COVID-19 Pandemic, the NTT IndyCar Series has been put on pause. With much of the world at a standstill, now seemed like a perfect time to revisit one of the most memorable races in series history.
Today, IndyCar Flashback will profile the 2015 MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway. In a thrilling 500-mile race, the winner returned to victory lane and began a career renaissance.
Rahal snaps long winless streak in thrilling fashion
Continuing on with their busy summer stretch, the Verizon IndyCar Series ended June 2015 with a second 500-miler. Although it would not be the season finale, the third superspeedway race with the manufacturer aero kits promised to be a thriller.
For the first time, Simon Pagenaud earned the Verizon P1 Award as a member of Team Penske – and his first on an oval. With the race moved from the traditional late summer/early fall date to early summer, heat became an even bigger factor. Fortunately, cloud cover would be included with the 89-degree forecast.
Although Pagenaud started on pole, his Penske teammates took control of the race early on. Helio Castroneves and points leader Juan Pablo Montoya combined to lead the first seven laps.
The draft-happy nature of the new aero kit combined with the rough track surface at Auto Club Speedway made for an action packed race. During the first 54 laps, only Marco Andretti (7) led for more than five consecutive laps.
On Lap 54, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato took his turn at the front and stayed in the lead for 15 laps. While Chip Ganassi Racing’s rising star Sage Karam led five laps early on, the top spot belonged to the series’ veteran drivers primarily.
Among others, Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe took their turn at the front. On Lap 118, Castroneves retook the lead and held it for a race-high 18 laps. After 135 laps under green, things began to change rapidly for Castroneves and the field.
Following contact with Briscoe and Power, Castroneves spun on the backstretch to the infield grass. While Briscoe lost the right bumper pod on his car, Castroneves received the worst end of the accident.
Despite leading 43 laps, he was unable to continue and would finish last in the 23-car field. As for Briscoe, he was assessed an avoidable contact penalty for the incident.
After a 15-lap caution to reel things in, the racing continued. Despite the frantic pace early, the latter half of the race would not play out equally. Eight laps after the restart, teammates Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden crashed on the front straightaway.
A week after the team earned a 1-2 finish at Toronto with Newgarden and Luca Fillipi, Carpenter Fisher Hartman’s day ended on a sour note. Despite the accidents slowing the race’s pace, 60 of the next 74 laps were run under the green.
The 14 laps under caution were by virtue of debris.
With the race winding down, action was still aplenty throughout the field. On Lap 241, Power and Sato collided. Despite leading a combined 93 of 250 circuits (Power led a race-high 62), neither driver would be around for the finish.
Just as the caution was displayed, Graham Rahal had taken the lead. Looking for his first win in over seven years, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver passed Briscoe for the lead with 10 laps to go.
Following a six-lap yellow flag period to clean up the incident, the stage was set for final four-lap run to the checkered flag.
Just as Rahal took the white flag, trouble broke out behind him. After contact with Montoya and Karam, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay turned down the front stretch banking and collected Briscoe.
After getting airborne, Briscoe’s car dug into the grass and pirouetted multiple times. Thankfully, both drivers emerged unscathed.
With the wreck prompting the final caution of the afternoon, Rahal broke his 124-race winless streak. Rounding out the podium would be Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan and Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti.
In earning his first win since St. Petersburg in 2008, Rahal gave his father’s team their first win since Ryan Hunter-Reay did so at Watkins Glen in 2008.
In his best season to date, Rahal won at his home track in July at Mid-Ohio and finished third in the points standings.
After a record 80 lead changes among 14 drivers, fans raved about the action, with drivers expressing worry about the “pack racing” nature of the event.
Since then, the 14 different leaders record has been eclipsed twice (2017 and 2018 Indianapolis 500). After breaking the record set by the 2001 CART event at the track (73)), the record 80 lead changes has yet to be broken.
Header Image By Chris Owens/INDYCAR