Castroneves increases IndyCar title lead to 49 points over Dixon (VIDEO)

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Championships come through hard work, dedication – and some breaks that wind up going in your favor. Today on the streets of Baltimore, Helio Castroneves certainly got those breaks.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was forced to pit for a new nosecone on Lap 2 after sustaining front wing damage on the opening lap. Then during another stop under yellow at Lap 41, he tagged one of his own crew members as he was coming into his stall, which brought out the black flag for him.

An outbreak of incidents kept him from serving the drive-through penalty under green until shortly after a restart with 15 laps to go. But even despite all of those problems, Castroneves came home with a ninth-place result.

Meanwhile, his two main title rivals found calamity. Scott Dixon finished 19th after a restart incident with Will Power that put him in the frontstretch wall, while Hunter-Reay lost power on his car and was scored 20th.

Thus, with three races remaining in the season, Castroneves’ lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship over Dixon has increased to 49 markers – while Hunter-Reay fell behind both Baltimore race winner Simon Pagenaud and teammate Marco Andretti to fifth in the standings.

“If you guys had said I was going to finish in the Top 10 after the first lap, I’d be like, ‘I’ll take it, give it to me,'” Castroneves told NBCSN after the race. “I’m still dreaming really, really big. We have three races to go and there are still a lot of points left in the game. We’re just gonna keep doing what we’re doing.”

Following his run-in with Power, Dixon – who had survived an earlier spin on a prior restart after contact with Graham Rahal – tried talking with an IndyCar official about getting his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda back to pit road so his team could fix the damage.

However, that request was ultimately denied and Dixon was out of the race – the latest problem for the New Zealander after a controversial pit road penalty cost him the win at Sonoma one week ago.

“I was just annoyed that – it’s clearly stated that every time, they’ll bring the car back to the pits unless it’s 10 laps to go,” Dixon said to NBCSN at the time. “We’re fighting for every point at the moment. There’s a little bit of suspension damage, but definitely something we can repair.

“I have no idea why they haven’t brought it back to the pits, but that’s just [INDYCAR Race Director] Beaux [Barfield] making it up as he goes every time and there’s absolutely no consistency. Rahal takes me out, there’s no penalty, and then [Power] slams us in the wall. Man, it’s been a rough couple of weeks.”

For Hunter-Reay, the defending race winner at Baltimore, Sunday was a grind. He fell all the way back to 20th at the end of Lap 1 after he had a problem with the anti-stall mechanism on his No. 1 Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

From there, it was all about trying to come back, and Hunter-Reay did manage to make his way into the Top 10. But just after the halfway point of the race, his battery went dead.

With his car unable to get in neutral, he could not return to pit road for a re-fire and his afternoon came to an end.

“I believe in miracles, but that’s probably what it’s going to take now [to clinch the championship],” said Hunter-Reay, who is now 74 points off Castroneves. “Hard work and fighting hard probably isn’t going to do it from here.”

Ricky Brabec wins 2017 Sonora Rally (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Ricky Brabec wins Sonora Rally. Photo: Sonora Rally
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Honda rider Ricky Brabec, who won a stage at this year’s Dakar Rally, has captured the victory in last week’s Sonora Rally, held March 21-24 in Sonora, Mexico.

He led all four of the special stages in a start-to-finish romp for victory.

Despite Joan Barreda and Steve Hengeveld’s injuries that ruled them out of the rally, Brabec still had to focus on the job at hand.

“You are really racing against yourself out here, against the terrain,” he said in a release.  “I’m much more familiar now with open up a course than I was back in January at Dakar when I had to do it for the first time.”

Fellow Honda riders Mark Samuels and Andrew Short completed the podium. Samuels won the Sonora Rally’s Dakar Challenge, which presents a free opportunity for a rider to enter the 2018 Dakar Rally.

“The hard work of getting to Dakar is still ahead of me, but I will do everything in my power to make America proud,” Samuels said.

Polaris ATR rider Dave Sykes won the UTV class, with Eric Pucelik and Mike Shirley winning the Cars class.

On background, the Sonora Rally is the only event of its kind in North America. The rally raid format requires street legal vehicles to transit along untimed “liaison” sections and timed “special stages” over multiple days, with the lowest combined time winning the event. Now in its third year, the Sonora Rally realizes the vision of founders Scott Whitney and Darren Skilton to bring a world class rally raid event to these shores (2016 recap).

Brabec’s winning ride is captured in the below video, via Race-Dezert.

Meanwhile, because photos do this event more justice than words do, those are below (All Photos: Sonora Rally)

Webber: Alonso may not see out the season with McLaren

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Mark Webber never had the easiest time in Formula 1, particularly his latter years as the number two driver at Red Bull Racing to Sebastian Vettel.

That being said, he was never on the verge of leaving it directly until he announced his plans to move to Porsche’s LMP1 Team, where he raced for three years from 2014 to 2016 before retiring at the end of last season.

But the Australian pondered whether Fernando Alonso might not be able to see out the season with McLaren Honda, if the team and manufacturer’s woes continue.

“Alonso may not stay with the team,” Webber told Belgian outlet Sporza. “Maybe Stoffel (Vandoorne) soon will have a new teammate.”

“I could see it happen that Alonso does not drive out the season. He is very frustrated. Fernando doesn’t start for a sixth or seventh place; he wants to fight for the podium.”

Webber added that for Vandoorne’s sake, starting in a team with lower expectations might not be the worst thing for him. It may allow the Belgian rookie to learn without extra pressure, since the onus is focused on the team.

For Alonso though, time is of the essence for what’s left of his career in F1. This is his last season under contract with McLaren Honda and he made no secret of his frustration for how well he drove at Melbourne, yet the car wasn’t up for it.

“Well the race was good, one of my best races driving like that,” Alonso told NBCSN post-race. “The car’s uncompetitive and to be close for a point was a nice surprise. It was good fuel saving as well. I was surprised to keep it in the points. A suspension (issue) stopped us from getting this point.

“I feel very well prepared, driving at the best of my career, and I’m fighting for one point. That’s disappointing and frustrating. But so long as I’m driving at my best, it’s a problem for the team… not me.”

Rosberg, Button soak up their first weekends out of F1 (PHOTOS)

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Since 2008, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have won seven World Championships. The two drivers that won titles in that period not named Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel – Nico Rosberg (2016) and Jenson Button (2009) – were both enjoying their first weekends not on a Formula 1 grid as full-time drivers for the first time in more than a decade this weekend as the 2017 season commenced at Melbourne’s Albert Park.

Rosberg made a visit to preseason testing in Barcelona a few weeks ago for his first appearance as spectator since winning the World Championship. But he watched from home this weekend with his family and posted a few thoughts during both qualifying and the race:

We’re now quite familiar with Rosberg’s home TV set and coffee table. This is the first time Rosberg has been out of an F1 race since 2005, the year he won the first GP2 championship.

Button meanwhile paid a visit to California for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana… once he got off his couch. He checked in with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Fontana.

Do you guys know if there's anything good to watch on tele this weekend? @storm_and_rogue_pomskies

A post shared by Jenson Button (@jensonbutton_22) on

Given McLaren Honda’s struggles, Button is probably smart to have got out when he did. He’d been on the grid since 2000, save for a couple races out in 2005 when BAR-Honda was barred from competing after being disqualified from the San Marino Grand Prix.

Meanwhile for Rosberg, he watched as Mercedes was unable to win the season opener for the first time since 2013.

DJR Team Penske wins three of four Supercars races at Melbourne

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DJR Team Penske has won its first Virgin Australia Supercars Championship races over the weekend during the Australian Grand Prix, with Scott McLaughlin and Fabian Coulthard taking the first three wins in the four-race, non-championship race weekend.

While Penske’s teams have long succeeded in North America and have had some international success, notably a Formula 1 win at the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix with John Watson, success has thus far eluded them since arriving in Supercars two years ago as majority shareholders of Dick Johnson Racing.

McLaughlin had the honor of beating Coulthard to the first win in race one of the weekend, before Coulthard doubled up with wins in races two and three. The first two races were one-two finishes, though, and McLaughlin said he’d received a text from Roger Penske in the wake of the victory.

“I got a text from Roger straight away and they’re all pretty happy,” McLaughlin told Supercars.com.

“They’re thanking me but I should be thanking them for giving me the opportunity.”

The first race was marred by this incident between Nick Percat and Lee Holdsworth, Percat having lost his brakes entering Turn 1 and crashing into Holdsworth, who was an innocent bystander.

But once the race resumed, McLaughlin held off Coulthard for the victory.

Coulthard led from start-to-finish in race two after his second straight pole position. He did the same in race three, albeit not in a Penske 1-2 as Jamie Whincup came second for Red Bull Holden Racing Team Commodore. McLaughlin was third.

A left-front puncture stopped Coulthard making it three in a row in the fourth race, and with steering damage, McLaughlin was resigned to 17th. Chaz Mostert took the win his Supercheap Ford, ending his own winless spell that dated to August of 2015.

Also of note from the weekend, ex-IndyCar driver Simona de Silvestro in her Team Harvey Norman Nissan Altima finished 13th in race one, her best finish yet in her first full season in the series.

The Supercars series is back in action at Symmons Plains Raceway on April 7-9.  Coulthard sits second in the series championship, 51 points back of Whincup’s teammate, Shane van Gisbergen.