Despite running an all-around excellent race and giving himself a real shot at a win, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal crashed out on lap 119 of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday afternoon when his left rear wheel came off the car as he exited pit road, nearly causing a major wreck with passing racers. Replay footage showed Rahal driving off from his pit stop while the inside rear tire changer was still working on that wheel, and Rahal himself later confirmed that it hadn’t been properly secured. Somewhere, Valtteri Bottas doesn’t think this is funny.
Prior to the incident, Rahal was feeling it, having worked his way up from starting in 18th place to lead the Indy 500 in the Honda-powered No. 15 car for 18 laps. Coming soon after the halfway point in the 200-lap contest, the doomed pit stop was supposed to set him up to grab the win, as he clearly had one of the fastest and most fuel-efficient cars on the track and had been running a near-flawless fuel strategy.
In the video below, you can see Rahal’s car drop down off its air jacks after three out of the four tire changers finish up their work within the span of about two seconds; meanwhile, the inside rear man is still frantically trying to tighten the nut on his wheel. The obstructed view makes it tough to tell exactly what’s going on or what caused the crew to be out of sync—but another thing the replay shows is that the chief mechanic (the outside front tire changer) never gave Rahal the signal to go once the car hit the ground. He stands there as Rahal peels out, hand outstretched like he’s very surprised there’s no longer a car stopped in front of him.
It’s only visible for a split second, but you can also see the inside rear tire changer lean back on his knees and look up after Rahal departs, clearly knowing something bad is about to happen.
Seconds later, the left rear wheel separated from Rahal’s car as he sped up leaving pit road. He spun across the track just ahead of several other cars and smashed hard into the outside wall, while the loose tire bounced back into traffic where it was struck head-on by Conor Daly and punted into the stratosphere.
It was initially reported that the tire hit his windscreen—a scary what-if scenario—but replay footage shows the car’s nose took the impact. Rahal’s car was destroyed, while Daly was able to continue the race. Neither were injured, thankfully.
Afterwards, Rahal acknowledged the tire hadn’t been properly attached, but didn’t pin the blame on his crew.
“We had ’em… we had ’em. It’s gonna be tough,” Rahal said after getting checked out by medics. “We had saved the fuel, we were kicking their butts on the fuel save, we were looking really good at the end… this one’s gonna sting.”
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