Tagliani, St. Pete race helping veterans in need

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Barracuda Racing driver Alex Tagliani has donated his race helmet for this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to military charity Wish For Our Heroes.

According to Jim Tomlin of the Tampa Bay Times, the helmet has been put on eBay for a one-week auction that will benefit military members in need throughout the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg region.

“I have a hard time saying no,” Tagliani told the Times. “I can’t donate all my helmets. But when it makes sense and when it [hits] my heart, it’s something I can do.”

Leading up to this weekend’s event, Wish For Our Heroes and race organizers announced a “wish fund” to help veterans be able to attend the race through donations from individuals and businesses that would be used to purchase tickets for those who serve.

A veteran, former U.S. Army Specialist Charlie Lemon, will be the grand marshal for Sunday’s event and also give the command to start engines to the 25-car field. Lemon, 30, lost his legs while on a mission in Iraq two years ago.

Wish For Our Heroes, along with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indiana National Guard, has also set up a “wish fund” for sending troops to this year’s Indianapolis 500. If you’d like to help the cause, click here.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”