Win or bust for Rahal at Sonoma in chase for IndyCar title

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Graham Rahal believes that nothing less than a win will do in this Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma as he goes in search of the Verizon IndyCar Series title.

Rahal enters the weekend second in the championship standings, trailing leader Juan Pablo Montoya by 34 points after crashing out of last weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

2015 has been Rahal’s best season in IndyCar to date, yielding his second and third wins in the series as well as fourth further podium finishes.

As the underdog for the season finale, Rahal sees only one way he can beat Montoya to the title: win at Sonoma.

“Last year we got through a bunch of challenges and we were able to get to the front of the pack and lead a bunch of laps, but unfortunately we didn’t top off with fuel on one of the last yellows so while we led the last 18 laps we needed a yellow the entire time,” Rahal said.

“We saved a lot of fuel and damn near made it, but we had to stop with a couple of laps to go for a splash of fuel.

“With that in mind, I feel pretty confident that we can have a similar sort of race this year in terms of running up front and being a contender.

“At this point we have to go there to win, we have no other choice. In order to beat Montoya, we have no choice. We’re going to go all out, do the best we possibly can and see what happens.”

Rahal had closed to within nine points of Montoya after winning at Mid-Ohio, but was spun out at Pocono by Tristan Vautier in a collision that has seen the Frenchman be hit with a fine and points penalty.

Nevertheless, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver remains upbeat, and is ready to launch an assault for the championship on Sunday.

“I still have a lot of confidence going into race weekend,” he said. “Obviously I would have liked to have the type of momentum we had after Mid-Ohio going into Sonoma, but it is what it is.

“We went from the highest of highs after Mid-Ohio to the lowest of lows, but we’re going to go out there with a fresh mentality, attack as hard as we can, get the best result we possibly can and have some fun.”

The IndyCar paddock arrives in Sonoma this weekend with a heavy heart following the death of Justin Wilson on Monday night. Wilson died due to severe head injuries sustained after being hit by debris at Pocono. He was 37 years old.

Rahal paid tribute to Wilson ahead of the race weekend, having raced alongside the Briton in 2008 at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

“Justin was the epitome of a great guy, an incredible teammate, great father and a wonderful friend,” Rahal said. “My time spent with him will forever be time I cherish, and I learned more from him than any other teammate I ever had.

“He led by example, he cared about others and the greater good, and he had a genuine way about him that you always knew you were safe when he was around you on the race track.”

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma is live from 4pm ET on NBCSN this weekend.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.