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IndyCar: Rahal, Sato already looking forward to 2019 after tough 2018

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The 2018 IndyCar Series season held a lot of promise for Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Rahal was coming off a pair of wins in 2017 and a sixth-place finish in the championship, his third straight top six placing, while Sato was coming off his best IndyCar season to date – he ended 2017 eighth in the standings, and of course triumphed at the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport.

Things started off with a bang, as Sato, who joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ahead of the year, was fastest in three of the four sessions at the ISM Raceway open test back in February, while Rahal was fastest in the other.

Rahal carried that momentum into the early part of the season, finishing in the top 10 in each of the opening six races, and extended that streak to 10 in the first 11 races.

However, race-winning pace seemed to be missing. Rahal’s only podium in that stretch came on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida to start the year – he finished second – though an additional podium in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit went by the wayside after a crash on Lap 46.

Sato, meanwhile, struggled out of the gate, not scoring a top 10 until the fourth race of the year at Barber Motorsports Park, where he finished eighth.

Sato did pick up momentum in the middle of the season, however, with finishes of fifth (Detroit Race 1), fourth (Road America), and third (Iowa Speedway).

And, of course, there was also Sato’s popular win at Portland International Raceway, the second-to-last event of the year.

However, Sato’s year was also blighted by five finishes of 20th or worse, and eight total finishes outside the top 10.

Simultaneously, Rahal’s season lost steam in the second half, thanks in part to quite a bit of bad luck. He had only two top 10s in the final six races, with three finishes of 21st or worse. What’s more, he had his first winless season since 2014.

The season-ending INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma proved to be a microcosm of their seasons. Both showed promising speed in advancing out of the first round of qualifying, but neither could advance to the Firestone Fast Six – Rahal qualified ninth, with Sato in 12th.

Race day saw their weekends get worse, and it was arguably the team’s worst result of the year. Sato’s day came to an end on Lap 15, when the engine in his No. 15 RLL Honda expired in spectacular fashion.

Rahal’s day then essentially came to an end on Lap 44, when he lost power due to a battery issue. Though he did rejoin and actually was running at the finish, Rahal ultimately finished 23rd, 19 laps off the lead.

“What happened in the race was our year in a nutshell,” Rahal lamented. “It was obviously disappointing to have the race end how it did. The guys did a great job and the Total car was pretty good in the race. We lost power. We had a battery that exploded unfortunately and that cost us everything.”

However, despite the disappointing results, Rahal remains highly confident in the team’s ability, and pointed toward their resilience as evidence that big things may be coming.

“It was a very disappointing and frustrating day. I will say this though, we have had a hard year, but I don’t think I have ever been as proud to work with a group of guys as I am this year,” he asserted. “These guys never quit. They focused on doing the best they could, at all times, and busted their butts. I know this is a great sign of things to come.”

Similarly, Sato is excited for the 2019 season, and believes the off-season will give them an opportunity to reset and reload to make a big run at things next year.

“The last race in Sonoma is disappointing but there is a great feeling for next year. We will work hard on development over the winter and come back strong for 2019,” Sato detailed.

Rahal ended 2018 tied for eighth in the standings, with Marco Andretti, with Sato ending up 12th.

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Adam Cianciarulo wins 250 championship, Eli Tomac wins Ironman 450s

Vanessa O'Brien. KawasakiUSA
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Not content with the championship, Eli Tomac ended the season in style with his sixth overall victory of the season at Ironman Raceway in the season finale.

Finishing third in the first race behind the two riders who were his principal rivals for most of 2019, Tomac did what he has done for most of the season and finished better in his second moto. In fact, he scored his 11th moto victory.

“It was a fun day,” Tomac said on NBC Sports Gold after Moto 2. “The mindset was there to attack. The first lap there (in Moto 2) was chaos with the crash with Marvin (Musquin). After that, Ken (Roczen) got by me right away. He was so good on the first couple of laps. I rode behind him for the majority of the race and was able to get by. What a year.”

The first moto may have been one of the best fans have seen all year.

Roczen grabbed the early lead, but Tomac kept him in sight. The other member of 2019’s Big 3, Musquin lurked in third and none of them were able bot get away from the other. In the closing laps, Musquin surged from third to the lead. At the checkers Musquin held a .707 second lead over Roczen with Tomac less than three seconds back in third.

Neither Musquin nor Roczen could keep their momentum, however. Musquin crashed in the opening lap of Moto 2 and was carted off the track. Roczen had the lead of the second race before giving it up to Tomac after the halfway point – and has often been the case this season, he faded in the closing laps to finish third.

Roczen’s 2-3 was enough for second overall.

Zachary Osborne (5-2) rode to a top five finish in the first moto, but it was his performance in the second that gave him his sixth overall podium finish of the season.

In what is probably his last ride with the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, Joey Savatgy (4-6) finished fourth overall.

Justin Barcia (7-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

In the 250 class, Adam Cianciarulo wrapped up the championship with one moto remaining.

Dylan Ferrandis needed to win in order to keep the pressure on Cianciarulo and he certainly did his part. Ferrandis took the lead from Kyle Peters on Lap 2, but it would not be that simple. Teammate Justin Cooper would not make it easy on Ferrandis when he grabbed the top spot on Lap 5. Ferrandis paced himself and regained the lead on Lap 12. With that pass, he was going to extend the championship battle into Moto 2 unless Cianciarulo could respond. Cianciarulo ran in third about five seconds back.

Ferrandis held on for his eighth moto win of the season.

“My goal today was to finish on a high note,” Ferrandis said on NBC Sport Gold after the first race. “So, I won a moto. I did the hard part of the job. AC was on it again today. He completely deserves this title. I was bad this year and lost points to him. I made a lot of mistakes this year, but I learned a lot also.”

When Ferrandis passed Cooper for the lead, it lit a fire under the championship leader. Cianciarulo caught Cooper in two laps to minimize the effect of Ferrandis’ win. Entering Moto 2 with a 27-point lead, he did not even need to start the race to claim the championship.

“Those guys were going really fast at the beginning,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s kind of hard. I felt like I had some pace, but I didn’t want to get in between them because that’s when things get hectic. So I thought I would let it play out as it was going to. I was cheering on Justin the whole moto. I was like ‘Come on man! Good lead, you’re doing good.’ Then I saw Dylan make a charge. I don’t know what happened to Justin, but then I knew I had to get him.

“I really did not want to sit in the rig for 45 minutes between (motos) and stress about it the whole time.”

All that was left was to see if Cianciarulo could round out the season with a perfect record of podium finishes.

Moto 2 was dominated by the same riders who ran well in the first race. After struggling with starts all year, Ferrandis earned the hole shot and rode to an easy win over Cooper getting his fourth overall win in the process. All four wins have come in the last six weeks.

With this moto win, Ferrandis bettered Cianciarulo in that statistic with nine to seven. This was Ferrandis’ best year in America with his Supercross championship and a second in the outdoor series.

Cooper’s second-place finish combined with his third in Moto 1 to give him second overall.

The answer to the question of whether Cianciarulo could sweep the podium was “yes.” Finishing fourth in the second race, he was third overall

Chase Sexton was able to snag the last podium spot of Moto 2 for his first such finish since Round 3. With a 4-3 he finished fourth overall.

Michael Mosiman (5-5) rounded out the top five.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[11] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II, Ironman I)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[4] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II, Ironman I)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[9] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II, Ironman I & II)
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

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