‘Dinger, Vautier, Munoz pass Indy rookie orientation

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Three of the four rookies in this year’s 97th Indianapolis 500 have been cleared to practice with the veterans after passing the Rookie Orientation Program today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A.J. Allmendinger of Team Penske, Tristan Vautier of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport all completed the three speed phases that make the ROP this afternoon. A.J. Foyt Racing’s Conor Daly is expected to undergo his program on Monday upon his return from Spain, where he is competing this weekend in the GP3 series.

Munoz, who will also compete in the Firestone Indy Lights’ Freedom 100 at IMS on May 24 as the series’ points leader, turned 62 laps in the ROP session compared to Vautier’s 54 and Allmendinger’s 66. It was ‘Dinger who had the quickest speed of the trio, turning in a lap of 219.239 miles per hour in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet; Munoz topped out at 216.987 miles per hour in the No. 26 Unistraw Chevrolet and Vautier hit 214.747 miles per hour in his backup Honda, the No. 55T.

Before ROP began, Helio Castroneves was the first driver out this month, ensuring that a Team Penske car was first out for the fourth consecutive year at Indy. However, Castroneves quickly pulled off the track at Turn 3, leaving it to Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden to make the first complete lap of the month around the 2.5-mile oval.

Newgarden was fastest in the first of two veteran practice sessions this afternoon, running a lap of 220.263 miles per hour in his No. 21T Century 21 Honda. He was amongst nine drivers who turned at least one lap in the first veteran practice.

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.”