Dakar: Roma, Coma, Casale and Karginov emerge as champions (VIDEO)

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Mini got its podium sweep and Nani Roma (pictured, right, with co-driver Michel Perin, left) got his second Dakar Rally championship, beating out teammate Stephane Peterhansel by five minutes and 38 seconds in the overall after today’s final Stage 13 from La Serena to Valparaiso, Chile.

Peterhansel, the 11-time Dakar champion, had taken a 26-second edge yesterday over Roma going into Stage 13 after the Spaniard dealt with the effects of an early puncture. That turn of events came after it was revealed that Mini had issued team orders going into Stage 11 to freeze positions in a bid to take all three spots on the podium for Roma, Peterhansel and third-place Nasser Al-Attiyah.

But following his Stage 12 triumph, Peterhansel noted the possibility that those orders would be re-issued after Roma fell back behind him. It would appear that they were, as the Frenchman slowed down and stopped to allow Roma to pass him along the way to Valparaiso according to the Associated Press. Additionally, the Minis of Roma, Peterhansel and Al-Attiyah (who held on to third place overall at 56 minutes, 52 seconds behind Roma) crossed the finish line in a group.

“I don’t know if this was the most stressful thing I’d ever done, but it was very tough,” said Roma, who is now the third former bike winner of the Dakar to also win it in a car, joining Peterhansel and Hubert Auriol.

“The second week, with difficult, long stages, wasn’t easy. We’re happy, very happy with the work Michel and I did. I’m going to revel in this. 10 years to the day after winning on a motorcycle, I’ve won in a car. It’s a dream come true.”

As for Peterhansel, he had understandably mixed emotions over the outcome after charging so hard during the second week of competition to contend for what would have been his 12th Dakar title.

“Let’s look on the bright side of things – the car didn’t miss a beat, it took anything we threw at it, like usual, and we had lots of fun driving,” he said. “But I’m frustrated with the final result. The third thing I want to say is that Nani’s my friend, and I’m pleased to see him happy because it’s been his dream for ten years, since he shifted to a car.”

In the bikes, Marc Coma capped off his fourth Dakar championship by a margin of almost two hours over fellow KTM rider Jorge Viladoms, with Olivier Pain holding off Cyril Despres for third overall.

It was a sweet result for Coma, who was unable to start last year’s Dakar after suffering a shoulder injury in the 2012 Morocco Rally that failed to heal up in time.

“These are really strong, personal feelings,” he said. “It represents a lot of sacrifices and hard work. It’s an extreme race with ups and downs. Looking back, I remember being unable to start last year’s race. And yet I’m here now, I’ve won. I’d like to thank those around me who made this comeback possible.

“Every time I win this rally, I say I’m going to savor it. I’ll do it with my loved ones, my family. I don’t know if I’ll ever win it again. I’ll try, I’ll work hard for it, but it’s a very complicated rally.”

After surviving a grueling quads rally that saw contenders Marcos Patronelli and Sergio Lafuente forced to bow out, Chilean rider Ignacio Casale took the class title by almost an hour and a half over Poland’s Rafal Sonik, with Sebastian Husseini rounding out the podium.

Going into the final moments of today’s stage, Casale savored the cheers of his fellow countrymen as he put the finishing touches on his championship.

“The last 20 to 30 kilometers were amazing: The crowds, people cheering me on, banners…,” said Casale. “…I hope all of Chile will revel in this victory. It’s a triumph of hard work and passion, which proves you can go a long way if you do your best.”

Finally, Andrey Karginov and Gerard de Rooy’s duel for top honors in the truck category ended with a memorable last stage.

According to a report from the Dakar website, Karginov lost critical time after he was held up by the No. 319 Mini of Yong Zhou, which crashed and then got stuck on the track in the last timed sector of the stage. Altogether, Karginov lost nine minutes, 34 seconds to de Rooy, who crossed the line first today.

However, race officials opted to give Karginov a time dispensation of 5 minutes, 20 seconds after he was blocked by Zhou – which enabled the Russian to beat de Rooy for the championship by a mere 3 minutes, 11 seconds.

Rossi charges to fifth after starting 18th at Barber

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Alexander Rossi has had a black cloud hanging over his head in each of the first two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner suffered an ill-timed caution at St. Petersburg that hurt his team’s strategy and then dropped out at Long Beach after an engine failure when he was running in the top three.

That misfortune continued on into Saturday, as he and the Andretti-Herta Autosport team couldn’t find the speed in qualifying, leaving him 18th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, everything turned up roses come race time and Rossi had arguably the drive of the day. Rossi was immediately on the charge and used a combination of strategy and speed to run seventh after the opening sequence of pit stops. He hung around the top five the rest of the day, eventually moving up to fifth after Charlie Kimball and Will Power made late-race pit stops.

All told, it was a remarkable run for him.

“It’s good considering we started 18th,” Rossi told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “We were pretty disappointed yesterday. We were on the verge of desperation. We had to diagnose what happened Saturday.”

The result vaulted Rossi all the way up to 10th in the championship standings, one point ahead of Tony Kanaan. He trails points leader Sebastien Bourdais by 57 markers heading into the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Bourdais hangs on to points lead after Barber

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Sebastien Bourdais’ drive to eighth is not quite the headline-maker to match his win at St. Petersburg or his second at Long Beach, but it was still a championship-caliber drive on a weekend where he and Dale Coyne Racing didn’t quite have the pace they had in the opening two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Bourdais advanced out of his Round 1 qualifying group, but went no further after turning the 12th fastest time in Round 2, leaving him 12th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, he managed to weather the storm and keep his nose clean, taking home an unspectacular but respectable eighth.

“Yeah not quite sure what did what. Maybe the conditions got us more in the operation of the tires,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee when asked about his struggles during the weekend.

Bourdais also added that might have been able to pass Tony Kanaan for seventh in the final laps, but he couldn’t quite do enough to make a run at him.

“I really thought I had (Kanaan) there. He used the pushed to pass. I didn’t forget! I really thought I had him. He used the push to pass on the way back. Shame on me. It was a good fight. Not the greatest day but top 10 is good for the guys and the Sonny’s BBQ car.”

Bourdais leads Scott Dixon by six points and Josef Newgarden by seven. Simon Pagenaud sits 10 markers behind while James Hinchcliffe is 15 back after three races.

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A full day of Fernando: Alonso takes Barber by storm (VIDEO)

Brown and Alonso. Photo: IndyCar
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Fernando Alonso was a busy man today at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as he prepares for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and made the rounds of media and promotion in doing so as part of his joint entry into the race thanks to McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion arrived on pit lane for Sunday’s morning warmup and set up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda pit, where he’d interact with Michael Andretti and the rest of the team.

Alonso had a quick sit-in in Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Honda:

Alonso then made it to the media center for a formal press conference with Andretti, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company. Alonso was high on life through most of the press conference and had a few playful jabs at some of his competitors.

Before the race, Alonso signed some autographs for fans, who were pleased he was on site.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

From there, it was a chance to head to the grid and speak with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.

Alonso’s day wasn’t done, as he visited both the NBCSN booth and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth for further interviews. A portion of the NBCSN interview is below.

Alonso will now head to Indianapolis with the team this week for a seat fit and further preparation for his May 3 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first run in the car. He’ll then be off to Sochi, Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which you can see on NBCSN (times here).

Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.