Wilson honored as friend Dixon wins IndyCar championship

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(AP) — Stefan Wilson stood in a circle of crew members in front of his brother’s car, the entire group swathed in T-Shirts commemorating Justin Wilson.

The group spoke softly before Sunday’s season finale, then broke by yelling “Justin!” in unison.

Then they stood together at the car as Wilson was honored in a series of pre-race tributes at Sonoma Raceway. There was a video of him, a moment of silence and “God Save the Queen,” England’s national anthem, played as a tribute.

Finally, the number 25 was written high above the raceway during a flyover.

Then one of Wilson’s closest champions went out and won the IndyCar championship and celebrated in the first joyous moment since the British driver was killed a week earlier. Wilson died last Monday night of a head injury suffered at Pocono Raceway a day earlier when a piece of debris from another car struck his helmet.

“We all raced with heavy hearts this weekend,” said champion Scott Dixon. “It’s been a very tough week. It’s such a small community. But Justin would have wanted us to go out and race, and today I gave it my all from when the green flag dropped. Much love to the Wilson family.”

Dixon won his fourth title Sunday by winning the season finale to snatch the championship from Juan Pablo Montoya.

He was a fitting winner at the end of a somber week. Dixon remained in Pennsylvania to comfort Wilson’s family after the accident. In 2011, he quietly relocated his family for a few months to Florida to support Dan Wheldon’s family after he died in the season finale.

As soon as he climbed Sunday from the car, Dixon made mention of Wilson.

“He and Justin were pretty close. I know their families were close,” team owner Chip Ganassi said of Dixon.

Dixon was a longshot to win the title after falling 47 points behind Montoya to third in the standings. Montoya led the standings from the season-opener until the final lap of the year. But in a race worth double points, Dixon dominated.

The title went to the New Zealand native based on number of wins: Sunday was Dixon’s third of the season, while Montoya has just two.

“There was still a chance, and that’s what we were hoping for,” Dixon said. “I still can’t believe it. We were such a longshot.”

Dixon and Ganassi celebrated by leaping from the championship stage to crowd surf.

The victory was the 100th for Chip Ganassi Racing, while a Team Penske driver failed to win a championship in the finale for the ninth time since 2002. It also marked Chevrolet’s fourth consecutive manufacturer championship since the company returned to IndyCar in 2012.

“I’m shocked,” Ganassi said. “We knew we had a car to be at the front, and then a lot of other things had to happen. And they happened.”

Indeed, Dixon was third in the standings as he began the race and everyone assumed it was Montoya’s title to lose.

And he did.

Team Penske was in trouble from the midway point of the race when Montoya hit teammate Will Power. It sent the Colombian to pit lane for repairs and he was mired in the middle of the pack for the bulk of the race.

Although he picked off a few positions, his break came eight laps from the end when Sebastien Bourdais spun Graham Rahal. Needing to get to fifth to win the title, he moved up one spot to seventh when he passed Rahal.

He got up to sixth when Bourdais was penalized, then had five laps to close a 3.5-second deficit on Ryan Briscoe to move to fifth.

Montoya made a hard charge, ultimately slicing Briscoe’s lead to 1.6 seconds, but he ran out of time to grab that final spot.

He was pragmatic after the race.

“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Montoya said. “We had a few ways to win the championship and we just threw it away. We didn’t close it.”

His biggest disappointment, it seemed, was from the race being worth double points. It was one of two events this season worth double points — the Indianapolis 500, won by Montoya, was the other.

“When you do this and you put double points on the last race, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done all year,” Montoya said.

Power, the reigning IndyCar champion, was devastated for Team Penske. The organization had three shots at the title Sunday as Montoya, Power and Helio Castroneves were among the six drivers mathematically still in contention.

“I feel so gutted for the team to not win on a draw there,” said Power, who complained that race control had too much of an effect on the race with long yellow flag periods.

Rahal, who was wrecked last week at Pocono Raceway to have his deficit pushed from nine points to Montoya to 34 headed into the finale, had an off day as he struggled with the handling of his car most of the race. The hit from Bourdais dropped him to an 18th-place finish and he fell from second to fourth in the final standings.

“Today was a bad day to have our worst day,” he said.

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