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IndyCar Indy 500

Rahal: Wilson family links “compelled” Indy 500 sub decision

Graham Rahal says his special connection with Stefan Wilson’s family, originated by his late brother Justin, “compelled” him to replace the injured Briton in this weekend's Indy 500.

Podium: race winner Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, second place Justin Wilson, Andretti Autosport Honda, third place Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet

Rahal was team-mates with Justin Wilson, who lost his life in an IndyCar crash at Pocono in 2015, at Newman/Haas Racing for the 2008 season following the open-wheel unification of series.

In the aftermath of Justin’s death, Rahal went to huge lengths to organize a charity auction on eBay to benefit his wife and daughters.

Following Stefan’s crash in practice at Indianapolis on Monday, in which he suffered a fractured vertebra that ruled him out of the race after qualifying 25th, Rahal received a call from Wilson’s team boss Dennis Reinbold.

Rahal was also team-mates with Justin at Dreyer and Reinbold for one race at Iowa in 2010, and that helped steer his decision to step into Stefan’s #24 Cusick Motorsports entry on Sunday.

“In some other situations, I don't think that it would have excited me as much,” said Rahal. “But being that it was Stef, and being that it was a Wilson, and in the situation that it was in, I just felt like it was my calling to jump in and help.

“I don't feel good about filling in for an injured driver. I feel for Stefan. It's a very unfortunate situation. When I saw the accident, I was very concerned for his back right away, when I saw the angle of the accident and, unfortunately, I'm aware of those things because of being a taller driver. It is an issue I feel like we have a little more frequently.”

Katherine Legge, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Stefan Wilson, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, crash

Katherine Legge, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Stefan Wilson, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, crash

Photo by: NBC

Rahal paid tribute to the Wilson family in his press conference on Tuesday, and said Justin was a key part in shaping his career right from his junior category days in America.

“The Wilson family, certainly in my life, has had a very strong impact,” he said. “As I said [after being bumped from the field in qualifying on Sunday], everything in life happens for a reason. Sometimes it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

“I think about Justin a lot. When the call came, right away it was an immediate connection. Frankly, I think in many ways, Justin helped – in more ways than one – to kind of shape my career.

“Not only as a man and who you should be, how you should act, all that stuff, but also I remember in 2006, when I was in Formula Atlantic. We had a joint autograph session with the Champ Car guys in Portland. I was still dreaming that hey, maybe [I’d race] someday Formula 1, and Justin Wilson was the guy who told me that it was way too political and I didn't have the right filter to enter F1.

“If it were not for him, I probably would have kept chasing a different dream. In many ways, he did help me, but I do know as a team-mate, too, when I was with him at Newman/Haas and then again with Dennis at Iowa, he was just a tremendous, tremendous guy, and Stef is right there with him.

“Their entire family I have the utmost respect for, and in a scenario like this, I felt had it been something different, I don't know how compelled I would have been, particularly with the storylines of the last couple days.”

Katherine Legge, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, wreck

Katherine Legge, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, wreck

Photo by: IndyCar Series

IndyCar has announced a special practice session on Thursday for both Rahal and Katherine Legge (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), the other driver who was involved in Wilson’s crash. The 15-minute session will take place from 4:30-4:45pm local time.

Each team will be allowed unlimited install laps within the time frame. They will not be allowed to stay on the track to cross the start-finish line and the Yard of Bricks.

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