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.

Dean Wilson out for rest of Supercross season

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“Such a massive gut punch on Saturday,” Dean Wilson wrote on Instagram on Tuesday. “Just as I was gaining good momentum riding well, feeling good and chasing my first win things turned in the blink of an eye.”

With that post, Wilson announced that he will be out for the remainder of the Supercross season, which includes races at East Rutherford, N.J. and Las Vegas, Nev. An MRI earlier in the week revealed a shoulder injury. He also sustained damage to his kidney in a Lap 8 accident while he was running in the top 10.

Wilson’s injuries will not require surgery.

Wilson’s season began with a lot of promise. Earning the holeshot in the season-opening race at Anaheim, Wilson led for a time before narrowly missing the podium in fourth.

Two weeks later, Wilson finished fifth overall in the Triple Crown event of Anaheim II. Those are his only top-fives of the season.

“The tough part of this is I have been trying so hard this year to be back where I need to be trying to get a job for next year,” Wilson continued.

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Such a massive gut punch on Saturday. Just as I was gaining good momentum riding well, feeling good and chasing my first win things turned in the blink of an eye. Started off Denver topping free practice then went on to qualify P1 in qualifier 1. Qualifier 2 didn’t get the cleanest laps but ended with a 4th. On to the main event I was running around 7th on lap 7 moving forward and as I came around for the rhythm section I tripled in and something freak happened causing the bike to nose dive after I tripled in and pile driving me into the ground. The tough part of this is I have been trying so hard this year to be back where I need to be trying to get a job for next year. It’s tough just hoping to have a ride each year. 2nd part is people saying “wilson’s hurt again, big surprise there” when it was something that wasn’t my fault. It’s a tough pill To swallow.. I injured my shoulder and got a contusion on my kidneys. Got MRI and good news is I dodged a bullet on my shoulder and I am just going to give it a few weeks of rest and therapy and see where we are at. Huge disappointment to end my SX season like this. Thanks to my whole team for everything and everybody checking in on me. I really appreciate it. I will be back.

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Next Race: East Rutherford April. 27, on NBCSN and on NBC Sports Gold

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