Rahal’s dream season finally hits trouble in Sonoma finale (VIDEO)

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SONOMA, Calif. – Much like Simon Pagenaud in last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Graham Rahal entered the last race of the year as an underdog, but with a shot at the championship.

And like Pagenaud, he also picked the worst time to have his worst race of the year.

Rahal’s dream season – which we’ve chronicled throughout the year here on MotorSportsTalk – finally hit the wall metaphorically rather than literally in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, where Rahal fought an ill-handling car all day and was lucky to even be in top-10 contention in the waning stages of the 85-lap race.

Contact occurred on Lap 78 when Sebastien Bourdais hit his rear wing and knocked him into a spin at Turn 7 when battling over sixth place.

Bourdais was assessed a drive-through penalty for the contact and Rahal, while justifiably irate about this moment, was overall more frustrated his car wasn’t up to scratch. He ended 18th in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake RLL Honda.

“Our car was pretty terrible today,” Rahal said, speaking to NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis post-race. “The guys did great in the pits to keep us in it. We didn’t deserve to be in that position. I can’t thank this team and Steak ‘N Shake enough. Obviously the Bourdais thing hurt us from third to fourth. But what can you say. We definitely wanted to go out better than this.”

Rahal expanded on the tough day in the post-race press conference.

“Car was just miserable today, just miserable. I don’t know why. We’ve been pretty strong on road and street courses all year, but we found a bad day to be bad. But that doesn’t overshadow the year we had,” he said.

He also said Bourdais, who is a four-time Champ Car champion, has been driving like this in more recent years, where aggression has got the better of him.

“Bourdais unfortunately in recent times has made a lot of moves like that,” Rahal said. “I don’t know what kind of excuse he could possibly come up with, with hitting me in the rear, but I hit the brakes at the 200 mark. It was going to be impossible for him to stop had he gone inside of me, and even if he had gone outside, he wasn’t going anywhere, yet he clearly just wasn’t even looking.

“He was obviously just focused right on my gearbox and not where we were on the circuit, and he just drilled me, and around I went. He comes up to me and said he doesn’t mean to, but unfortunately that cost us third in the championship.

“What do you say? Again, what do you say? I don’t know, man. It’s frustrating. He’s a guy you should ‑ you should have high expectations for, and when you see stuff like that, it’s pretty disappointing.”

Rahal still held his head high despite the rough ending, as he fell to fourth in the final standings despite entering in second, 34 back of Juan Pablo Montoya.

“We have nothing to be ashamed of this year,” he told Beekhuis. “Steak ‘N Shake rescued this team and gave us the chance to race this year.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.