On Saturday, Graham Rahal had been cursing Sage Karam for getting in the way of his flying lap during qualifying, leaving him starting a disappointing 13th place for the start of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It looked like the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver would be facing a long, frustrating and likely fruitless day at his home track, a place he dearly wanted to win more than almost anywhere else except Indianapolis itself.

The irony of the day was that two hours later when he found himself standing in victory lane two hours later, Rahal arguably had Karam to thank for indirectly putting him there - and for his second win in 2015 and third career victory in the Verizon Indycar Series as a whole.

"This is special for the Rahal family," said Rahal, who had been wearing an Ohio State University football-themed helmet. "I grew up at this place, running around when my dad was racing. This is a great win for the team at a special place.

"Honestly, if I'd won a lot of races in my career but I never won this one, I think I'd be pretty disappointed."

CLICK: Full race results from the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

At the start of the race, the question of the day appeared to be whether anything could possibly get between Scott Dixon and his sixth win at Mid-Ohio. He'd certainly staked his claim early by rocketing to pole position with a new track record time in qualifying on Saturday to put himself ahead of fellow front row man Will Power (Penske), but despite his evidence edge in raw speed there were undoubted threats lurking behind the pair with Sebastien Bourdais (KVSH Racing) and Helio Castroneves (Penske) on the second row and the youthful line-up of Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) and Charlie Kimball (Ganassi) no less menacing on row three.

When the race went green despite a less than ideal rolling grid line-up, Power was badly caught out and found himself jumped in the run down to the first corner by both Bourdais and Castroneves. He was soon demoted a further spot by Newgarden. When he attempted to fight his way back around the #67, Power pushed too hard and went off the track - and when he came back on he did so right in front of Kimball, clipping and slicing the rear left tyre which immediately deflated and pitched the Ganassi into the gravel at turn 6 on lap 3 to bring out the first caution of the day.

A few of the backmarkers opted to make a strategy call and pitted but the leaders stayed out. Dixon had survived a wheel-to-wheel duel at the start with Bourdais into the first corner to hold the early lead, and so he still had control of the restart on lap 7 which saw him once again fend off unwanted advances from Bourdais while the big gainer was CFH Racing's Luca Filippi who was up to fourth place behind Castroneves having originally started from ninth. Just behind him was Ryan Hunter-Reay in the partially rebuilt Andretti Autosport #28 which was not looking much the worse for wear following its morning warm-up mishap, while Will Power had somehow managed to hold on to sixth place and was especially fortunate to receive a warning rather than a drive-thru penalty from race control for his avoidable contact with Kimball.

Once the pit window opened on a number of race strategies after lap 13, a number of big names who had found themselves marooned in the midfield so far - among them Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson (Andretti) and Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Racing) opted to pit, with Penske's Simon Pagenaud in on lap 15 and Will Power toughing it out only one lap longer before also coming in, not only for fuel and tyres as usual but also for a new front wing after this original one had been damaged in the contact with Kimball. That cost him time and position, and Newgarden also suffered a setback in his own stop a lap later when he ran over his air hose and the left front tyre changer then fumbled a wheel nut.

Dixon was in no mood to pit just yet and stretched his lead over Bourdais to over five seconds, but that left him and all the others who had yet to make their stops vulnerable to an inconveniently timed caution - which promptly materialised on lap 21 for debris on the track resulting from contact between Sato and Stefano Coletti (KV Racing Technology). Dixon and the seven other cars at the front had no option but to pit under the full course caution but it came at a steep cost in terms of track position.

Uniquely among the teams, Dale Coyne Racing were playing a long fuel conservation game which meant Tristan Vautier stayed out to assume the lead ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal, while Rodolfo Gonzalez briefly hit the heady heights of fourth in front of Wilson, Newgarden and Pagenaud. Dixon meanwhile returned to action in 12th, three spots behind Power and with a lot of ground to make up when the race went back to green on lap 26. Unfortunately Mid-Ohio is not one of the best places for overtaking, and it didn't help that Dixon was on the slower black-walled prime tyres for this stint when most others had the benefit of the faster options. He would simply have to bide his time and be patient.

Vautier managed to hold on to the front until his deferred pit stop on lap 33; Wilson had been the big early gainer leaping into second ahead of Montoya, Rahal and Newgarden, and once Vautier finally came in the Briton found himself in control of the race for the first time. Dixon meanwhile was getting frustrated at the lack of any progress, and on lap 38 the patience finally ran out and the Ganassi pit wall called the #9 in to get it onto a faster set of tyres and dial in some go-faster set-up tweaks. Someone at Andretti Autosport was watching and next time around Hunter-Reay was called in and put on the same strategy only to emerge behind Ganassi's Sage Karam - who hasn't been making himself popular in the IndyCar paddock of late by repeatedly getting under the feet of his more experienced rivals.

Having made one of the earliest stops of the race, it was soon time for Wilson to surrender the lead he had inherited and come back down pit lane on lap 39 with Rahal doing likewise next time around. Newgarden, Montoya, Power and Filippi all also needed to pit, briefly putting Castroneves and Tony Kanaan at the front for a short spell before they too headed to pit lane. Once all the hectic activity had finally settled down the the dust cleared it was Montoya, Newgarden and Rahal at the front with Wilson having cycled back in to fourth place ahead of Power and Pagenaud, the Frenchman having been briefed to do all he could to get under Scott Dixon's feet and stop him from working his way up from the seventh place in which he currently found himself stuck.

Dixon had no choice but to respond strategically to the situation in which he found himself, and with 26 laps to go - the very limit of the fuel window to get to the finish - he came down pit lane for his final scheduled stop. Once again, Hunter-Reay and Wilson quickly followed suit. Among the leaders, Graham Rahal was the first to make his way in for fuel and tyres and just as he pulled up in his pit stall on lap 66 the track was placed under a full course caution for Sage Karam going off course and spinning in turn 4. That was perfect for Rahal and those who had already stopped - and a disaster for those who hadn't and needed to do so now, among them Montoya, Newgarden and Power. Montoya for one was suspicious about just how well the caution had fallen for Ganassi; almost as though custom-ordered, in fact.

"Just really bummed for the mistake I made going into turns 4 and 5," Karam explained later. "I was adjusting my brake bias and missed the apex to the corner and that was it. I was coming into the pits that lap as well. The car was pretty quick all day and who knows what we could have done if we stayed on the lead lap there. If the cautions fell our way a little, maybe we could've gotten up there toward the front."

While it was true that Dixon benefited from the caution, in fact it was Graham Rahal who was the luckiest of the lot having actually been on pit road at just the right moment. That meant he picked up the lead for the restart on lap 69, which he was just able to hold on to despite wild charges down either side of him from Wilson and Pagenaud, putting them into second and third place ahead of Dixon and Kanaan. Meanwhile Montoya had dropped out of the top ten as a result of his final pit stop under the yellow and was running 12th, with Newgarden in 14th and Power one spot further behind. Time was running out for all of them, and so were the opportunities for any more strategic Hail Marys to get them out of their predicament.

The race wasn't entirely done yet: with ten laps to go, former Mid-Ohio winner Charlie Kimball spun off into the gravel in turn 4 after he had turned in early on Rodolfo Gonzalez and made contact, a replay of an incident that he'd had earlier in the race with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's Ryan Briscoe. On the previous occasion there hadn't been a need for a full course caution, but this time it did after Kimball stalled his engine and needed to be re-fired. It meant Rahal's three second lead over Wilson was vaporised and he now faced a restart in which he had no push-to-pass activations remaining to protect his lead. Everyone in Ohio crossed their fingers and held their breath for the home state hero.

When the race resumed on lap 83, Wilson got half a nose ahead of Rahal going into the first corner but then had to back out or risk taking both of them out, meaning that Rahal had narrowly managed to keep the lead. Wilson successfully slotted back into second ahead of Pagenaud, Dixon and Kanaan while Vautier had been able to ride his fuel-saving strategy all the way to a rather fabulous sixth place. From there, all of them managed to maintain position for the remaining seven laps of the race until the chequered flag finally came out to signal Rahal's admission to victory lane.

"The tyres were awesome; reds, blacks, it didn't matter for me," he said after clinching victory. "Used reds were good for me, particularly at the end, I was just able to just absolutely gap anyone I needed to at the end. I didn't have any push-to-passes left on that last restart so I was pretty nervous Wilson would get me."

"I was pushing like hell to try and get past Graham on that restart," said Wilson for his part. "I knew I couldn't lean on him or bang wheels with him - he's a Honda driver going for the championship, so that was in the back of my mind. At the same time, I wanted to push him as hard as I could, make him honest and make him earn it.

"He did a fantastic job today. I had one more push-to-pass left but Graham was too quick. All the credit to him today because he was on fire," Wilson added. "We pushed as hard as we could. I have to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport and Honda for all the work they've done. I'm pleased to get Honda a 1-2 finish at their home track."

Rahal's victory means that he's dramatically closed the gap on Montoya in the championship standings from 42 points coming into this weekend's race to just nine after it, blowing the whole title battle wide open with just two rounds of the 2015 season remaining at Pocono and Sonoma.

"We did everything we were supposed to do today and the race was playing out perfectly for us," sighed Montoya. "Unfortunately, we got a caution with about 25 laps to go that we didn't need. It worked out for some and didn't work out for others. But we had a great car and we still have the points lead. Ready for Pocono where we won last year."

With Montoya finishing in 11th place, Dixon also successfully cut his own deficit to the championship leader to just 34 points. However the news wasn't as positive for the other leading title contenders, with Power (14th), Castroneves (15th) and Bourdais (17th) all losing ground on the Colombian at the worst possible time.

"We had a pretty good shot for a podium finish there from that point until that last caution," Power pointed out. "If it had just stayed green we would have had a good recovery on our hands. Things just didn't go our way in the end. We'll just keep our heads up and look forward to Pocono."

"We had a great Hitachi Chevy but, unfortunately, the strategy didn't play out for us," added Castroneves. "I wish there weren't two weeks off before we go to Pocono because I really want to get back on the track soon."

"Obviously a very disappointing day," admitted Bourdais. "We did what we had to do early on. We were saving fuel, then as usual the guys in the back pitted early and started exposing us so we started to run quick and as soon as we turned the wick up, a yellow came out. We pitted and cycled to the back. After that, the race was pretty much over - but not only did it happen once, it happen twice when they closed the pits a second time for the Karam incident.

"It's disappointing because the car was good and the KVSH Racing team executed all weekend, but we ended up losing precious championship points. On days like this, you just have to move on and keep at it. We will go on to Pocono and see what we can do."

Despite a number of off-track excursions during the afternoon's proceedings, Takuma Sato proved to be the only retirement of the afternoon. Having been involved in that early clash with Coletti, when he subsequently pitted on lap 60 for a damaged left rear tyre guard the team had to inform him that they had run out of parts - meaning he would have to park the #14 for the rest of the day. It was certainly not the way that he would have wanted to mark his 100th Verizon IndyCar Series race start.

"A very disappointing race," conceded the Japanese driver. "We took an early pit stop because this track is so difficult to overtake and the alternate strategy opens up some opportunities. Unfortunately we had an incident with Coletti, who tried to overtake me and clipped my rear wing and damaged it. We had to come back to replace the entire rear assembly. Something happened and it took too long, so we went down a couple laps. It's very difficult to recover from that. In the end we ran wide, went off track and damaged the rear bumper, and we had to retire. Very disappointing but hopefully we will be strong in the last two races."

Those final two races will take place on back-to-back weekends, with the ABC Supply 500 at the Pocono Raceway tri-oval on August 23 and the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma a week later on August 30 before a long seven-month off-season.

See full race results from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and updates Verizon IndyCar championship standings



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