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IndyCar rallies together in wake of Robert Wickens’ accident

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LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Alexander Rossi and Robert Wickens have forged a bit of a rivalry this season. They’ve tangled on the track a few times, and exchanged the occasional verbal dart – some more playful than others, like when Wickens jokingly locked Rossi in a prison cell during a promotional event last month.

But animosity between IndyCar drivers tends to dissolve quickly amid grim reminders of the sport’s dangers.

Wickens was just a few laps into the race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday when he connected with Ryan Hunter-Reay and soared into the catchfence. The fencing was shredded, and Wickens’ car was reduced to just the tub, which came to a rest on the track along an interior wall.

The race was stopped – and IndyCar came together.

“All 22 of us, 33 of us, whatever it may be, are a family,” Rossi said. “We try our best to look after each other out there. You don’t want to see that happen to anyone. We’ll continue to think of him and pray for him, his family, his fiancee; all that they have to deal with.”

Wickens was being treated for injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine following an accident that led to him getting airlifted from the track to the hospital. IndyCar said the Canadian sustained a pulmonary contusion and will undergo an MRI and probable surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest in Allentown.

IndyCar drivers were more concerned with his health and future than what the race meant to the championship picture.

“All we can hope for is that everybody is going to be OK,” points leader Scott Dixon said.

It was the latest chilling moment at Pocono: Justin Wilson died from a head injury in 2015 when a piece of debris from a crashed car bounced off the track and hit his helmet.

James Hinchcliffe, who was caught up in Wickens’ wreck, had survived his own life-threatening injury when a broken part from his car pierced an artery during a 2015 crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

But the series goes on – even on the oval tracks like Indy and Pocono where danger makes even veteran race fans tense up.

Once the green flag dropped for the final time Sunday, the drivers played nice. There wasn’t another caution the rest of the way, and Rossi closed the gap on Dixon in the points race with a dominant win.

Rossi led 180 of 200 laps to win his second straight race and third of the season, slicing Dixon’s lead to 29 points with three races left.

Will Power, who won the last two Pocono races, was second, and Dixon finished third.

“We’ve been a bit blah. They’ve been excelling,” Dixon said of Rossi.

Rossi also won for Andretti Autosport on the streets of Long Beach in April and the Mid-Ohio road course three weeks ago.

Wickens finished second at Mid-Ohio, what was the latest in a sensational string of races for the 29-year-old Canadian driver in his first season in IndyCar. Wickens had reeled off five straight top-five finishes and is sixth in the standings. Hinchcliffe, runner-up on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” in 2017, helped lure Wickens to IndyCar and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season after a successful career in Europe.

“I know he is in good hands. Hopefully, we’ll see him back in the car soon,” Hinchcliffe said.

It surely won’t be next week at Gateway Motorsports Park or the rest of this season.

IndyCar drivers can steel their will to put any kind of bad news behind them once they get behind the wheel and hit 220 mph in an open cockpit. There’s a championship to race for and Dixon has a fifth title in sight.

He not only has to hold off Rossi, but former series champions Josef Newgarden and Power aren’t out of contention yet.

Rossi sprayed champagne and confetti flew on the podium.

The celebration may have seemed normal, but thoughts couldn’t help stray toward Wickens.

“It’s tough to really celebrate after what happened,” Rossi said.

Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

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The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

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