IndyCar title watch: Helio keeps Dixon, Hunter-Reay at bay

Leave a comment

Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course had four-time M-O winner Scott Dixon starting up front and well ahead of his IZOD IndyCar Series title rival, Helio Castroneves, who was rolling off 14th on a track where passing is tough to come by.

But instead of the seemingly preordained result of Dixon chopping into Castroneves’ points lead, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner turned in a drive that could wind up earning him the series championship later this fall. Castroneves was able to climb from mid-pack and take a sixth-place finish at the checkered flag – right in front of Dixon in seventh.

The net gain for Castroneves may appear to be a mere two points – his lead over Dixon increased to 31 points overall with five races left in the season – but considering how IndyCar’s recent championship battles have had a funny way of coming down to the wire, those additional two markers earned on Sunday may mean everything in the end for the Brazilian.

“If you would have told me we would have finished in the top-10 today, I would have said you were crazy,” said Castroneves. “I know that it was only a sixth place finish, but it could win the Championship at the end of the year.

“I have said all along that we will continue to do our thing and not change a thing and it will pay off at the end of the day.”

In addition to finishing ahead of Dixon, Castroneves also minimized gains made by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who remains third in the standings.

The defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion led 30 of 90 laps and earned a fifth-place finish on Sunday, but only picked up four points on Castroneves; he is now 65 markers back going into the next race, the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway (Sun., Aug. 25, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.”