IndyCar Notes: Aleshin prepares for first oval test

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Fresh off a fourth-place finish in the GTD category yesterday at the Rolex 24, IndyCar Series rookie Mikhail Aleshin will get back to open-wheel work tomorrow at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he’ll take his rookie oval test.

The driver of the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, a product of various European series such as Formula Renault 3.5 and the GP2 Series, has never competed on an oval before. Needless to say, tomorrow should be an interesting day for him.

“It will be very important for me because I never have tested on an oval so I am looking forward to it,” he said. “We had some time working on this test with the team at the shop so I’m quite happy to say that the team has really helped me a lot to get all the details fast.

“Ovals will be something really special for me. I’m looking forward to the start of the season.”

When IndyCar Series team owner/driver Ed Carpenter won the pole position for last year’s Indianapolis 500, he became the first Indiana native to pull off the feat since Pat O’Connor did it in 1957.

Now, Carpenter has an award that’s named after O’Connor, who lost his life one year later at Indianapolis in a first-lap accident. Carpenter was given the Pat O’Connor Award from the Hoosier Auto Racing Fans group during a banquet ceremony yesterday.

The award is voted on by the group’s executive board and is given to a driver for the Midwestern U.S. that in turn gives “devotion, cooperation, and constant effort to make auto racing the sport of which they are proud.”

Past winners of the award include NASCAR superstar Jeff Gordon, former Indy 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr., and another current IndyCar team owner, Sarah Fisher.

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.”