Dixon focused on cutting title deficit to Helio in Houston

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The last time IndyCar had a doubleheader weekend back in July at the Honda Indy Toronto, Scott Dixon dominated the weekend and swept both races to seemingly set up a championship duel with Helio Castroneves.

But problems in the last two IndyCar events at Sonoma and Baltimore have slowed down what appeared to be his inevitable march toward the Brazilian. Going into this weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, Dixon is 49 points off the pace.

However, the performance of his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on street circuits this season has him optimistic about his chances at Reliant Park.

“If we can replicate Toronto, that would make things a lot better,” Dixon said this morning. “Looking to do that again isn’t what I’d say impossible but it’s going to be very tough. But it’s something we’ll set our sights on and try to achieve. As far as street courses go, our car has been pretty good recently with Baltimore and Toronto and some of the others – the car definitely has got good speed.

“We’ll try to work out where the track goes this morning and make sure we can focus on just trying to learn the corners and curbs and different parts of it, to get the speed out of the car for qualifying this afternoon. That’s the main goal.”

Like Castroneves, Dixon has never tackled this 10-turn, 1.7-mile layout before (although he did race once on the Houston downtown course that hosted this race from 1998-2001).

He’s done his best to garner as much track knowledge as he can through videos of the 2006 and 2007 Champ Car events at Reliant Park but also noted that he isn’t falling back completely on that.

“The problem with street courses is that every year, it’s different,” he said. “The curbs are slightly different…The track changes a lot and they’ve made corrections to the road or put more drains in or different surface changes.

“You can take in so much, but you must also be willing to have an open mind so you’re not saying, ‘That corner was like that – why is it different?'”

It makes for a formidable wild card as Dixon tries to start reeling in Castroneves this weekend, a task he calls “definitely achievable.” However, he also acknowledges that Castroneves is in the better position – even though Dixon has won a pair of series championships and Castroneves has yet to win one.

“Clearly, the leader at this point probably has the advantage,” Dixon said. “Anything’s possible. You’ve got to keep an open mind and try to achieve. But I don’t think having won championships [in the past] really helps you in another.”

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.”