Graham Rahal took the battle for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship down to the final race of the season, Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, but high tire wear in the race and contact from Sebastien Bourdais ended the Honda driver’s championship hopes.
The contact, on Lap 76 of the 85-lap contest, spun Rahal’s Honda, dropping him from sixth to an eventual 18th-place finish, and from second to fourth in the final championship standings. Prior to that incident, Rahal ran consistently near the front of the field, but relatively high tire wear on a warm day would see him struggle with handling aboard his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda during the second half of each run between pit stops.
Ryan Hunter-Reay ended his 2015 season by finishing second in the race to new series champion Scott Dixon. Today’s result, combined with victories at Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway in recent weeks, vaulted the 2012 series champion from 11th to sixth in the final championship standings.
Substituting for the recovering James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Briscoe also finished his season on a high note, taking the checkers in fifth for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports; while Gabby Chaves claimed series Rookie of the Year honors with a 14th-place finish today.
Prior to the start of today’s race, Honda driver Justin Wilson was remembered with a moving tribute, including a video presentation and the singing of “God Save the Queen” in honor of the British driver, who died on Monday as a result of injuries sustained last weekend in a racing accident at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Earlier, American Honda and HPD announced plans to contribute $50 per lap completed at Sonoma by each of the 13 Honda entries at this weekend’s race to the Wilson Childrens’ Fund, established to benefit the surviving family of the 37-year-old racer. Honda drivers completed a total of 1,079 laps today, which will result in a donation of $53,950 to the fund. Fans may add their own donations, or purchase Justin Wilson memorabilia with proceeds going to the fund, by logging on to www.wilsonchildrensfund.com.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (#28 Andretti Autosport Honda) started 3rd, finished 2nd, his third podium finish in the last four races: “It was a good finish to the season, that’s for sure. We won two of the last four races – we finished second today, so it’s been a really good streak. Today we jumped a few spots in the championship. We finished sixth, which is crazy coming from 11th in the championship this morning. It’s been a great run and it’s great that it ended on a high note like this headed into a busy off-season. But we’re also missing Justin Wilson. He’s here with us in spirit. He’s a part of what we’re doing, and he’ll always be moving forward with us at Andretti Autosport.”
Graham Rahal (#15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) started 6th, finished 18th, finished a career-high fourth in the drivers’ championship: “Unfortunately our car was pretty terrible today from the start. The guys did a great job in the pits to kind of keep us in it, frankly, because we didn’t really deserve to be in that position. The car has been like this all weekend, it’s been an animal. I wasn’t worried so much about the championship from the start. I knew it looked like [Scott] Dixon would pretty much dominate. I can’t thank this team enough, Honda has done a great job and I’m proud to lead the charge for them. Obviously, the [Sebastien] Bourdais thing [contact and resulting spin for Rahal] hurt us and went from third to fourth in the championship. What can you say? It’s been a great year, we have nothing to be ashamed of and have a lot to be proud of. Finishing fourth in the championship is not the worst, but obviously we hoped for better. This team did a tremendous job all season and they deserved better than fourth. I feel like I drove pretty well this year. I feel like I improved a lot in areas that I needed to improve. I’m proud of the effort the team put in and I’m proud of the effort I put in and we have a lot to improve on yet.”
Art St. Cyr (President, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race and the 2015 season: “Considering the struggle we had at the beginning of the season, the way our associates responded and fought back the entire way is inspiring. Winning three of the final four races gives us good momentum moving towards 2016. In a lot of ways, this has been one of most challenging years, not just in terms of performance, but with the serious injuries to James Hinchcliffe at Indianapolis and, of course, the tragic loss of Justin Wilson just last week. Our thoughts remain with the Wilson family in this difficult time. All of us in the Honda family are going to honor his memory in the best way we know: by continuing to fight hard for race wins and championships.”