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.

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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