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Engine woes strike Honda IndyCar entries of Armstrong, Rahal

The opening practice of this weekend’s Indy Grand Prix featured an oddity as two new Honda engines encountered issues that derailed the session for Marcus Armstrong and Graham Rahal.

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

The problems began 25 minutes into practice as the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda of Rahal pulled out of the last corner and began slowing along the front straight of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn circuit.

As the Ohio native engaged the clutch to coast down the front straight, he reported “something isn’t right” over the radio before adding “it’s letting go” in reference to the new engine that was put in ahead of the weekend.

He came to a stop at the end of pit exit, bringing out the red flag before being towed back to the garage area to undergo an engine change.

Rahal confessed to hearing something off at the exit of Turn 13 before making the call to stop.

“I did one upshift and I clutched right away because I could tell,” Rahal said. “But we'll see. These are new engines. We’ve got to see what the issues are.

“Unfortunately, there's clearly something going on, but Honda has done a wonderful job all year at HRC and I feel like they've been pushing the limits.

“We'll see what the rest of the May has in touch, but it's kind of unfortunate for the two of us to not even get any running this morning.”

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Penske Entertainment

When the session resumed shortly after, a massive cloud of smoke was seen coming from the pit box of Armstrong as a noticeable fire erupted from the back of his No. 11 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

While he was hesitant to confirm, it was learned from a team representative that the New Zealander also had a new powerplant installed for the weekend.

“I felt a bit of a vibration,” Armstrong said. “They didn't see anything on the data, but you know when there's something not right, so I just boxed.

“I think we may have saved it [the car]. If I kept going, we wouldn't have had a fire extinguisher or anything out there.”

Marcus Armstrong, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Marcus Armstrong, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

Although the problems spread across two different drivers on separate teams just minutes apart from each other, Rahal doesn’t believe a conclusion should be reached on the new Honda powerplant just yet.

“I think it's too early to say that,” Rahal said. “It is quite early only being on my second real flying lap of the whole day.

“It's too early to panic right now. Let's see how the rest of this session shapes up for us.

“The focus is going to be just to try to get an engine in to make the next session because obviously, you don't want to go into qualifying without having run at all today.

“But in this morning's session as cool as it is, I don't know how much you can be able to take from this. It's cool right now. The metrics that we got said the tire was harder this year on the [primary] than last year. I don't know if that's true.

“It kind of feels like the tire's got quite a lot of grip, so it'll just be interesting to see, but I don't think you can take a lot from the start of this session. It's cool.”

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

And Rahal is eager to get things right as the IMS road course has become one of his better tracks, with three runner-up finishes – including last August – plus 12 top 10s and 84 laps led in 15 starts.

“We like this place,” Rahal said. “We've done well here and we're always confident here. I love this track. I love coming to Indy, clearly. I love the GP and I just hope that we can get the Fifth Third Bank car up front again.

“Last year, I still have some nightmares about, about the second race [in August] and losing to [Scott] Dixon here. I think that's the [second] time he's beat me here. I've had three second places here. I just can't seem to get over the hump.

“This year, hopefully, we can get it done. We got one shot at it. Hopefully we can do it tomorrow.”

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