Dixon’s nightmare Long Beach weekend ends just outside top 10

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All things considered, the Long Beach weekend for Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon could have been worse. But not much worse.

The New Zealander got off to a bad start with an accident in Friday’s second practice session at Turn 9, which damaged the left rear wheel guard and suspension.

Then in his round of qualifying, he spun at Turn 1, which cost him his two fastest laps and dropped him to the back of the grid. He lined up 26th in the 27-car field.

His Sunday wasn’t smooth either, because contact from Tristan Vautier on the first lap gave Dixon a flat tire and sent him to the pits.

Without ever really figuring into the equation on Sunday, Dixon at least managed to stay out of trouble and finish just behind points leader Helio Castroneves. Castroneves was 10th, Dixon 11th on the day. He is third in the championship, 10 points behind Castroneves. It was an exercise in damage control.

“Unfortunately it was just another day in a bad weekend for us here,” said Dixon. “We were taken out by (Tristan) Vautier on Lap 1 which resulted in a flat tire for us. We had to come in for a front wing as well when we pit, and lost a lap. So we missed out on the strategy that got the other guys around us into the top five.

“I think we had some damage as a result of the accident and we did the best we could with what we had. We also had some issues with our top gear limit and it held us back a bit in the kink from really making a run at anybody.”

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”