Oriol Servia: Everyone itching to “send a message” at IndyCar Open Test

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Oriol Servia may only be a part-time driver for the time being with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, but the Spaniard is like every other Verizon IndyCar Series competitor at this point – beyond ready to get in the car and go racing.

The season officially starts March 30 in St. Petersburg, Florida but begins in earnest tomorrow with a two-day Open Test session at Barber Motorsports Park outside Birmingham, Alabama.

And the man that some call the “Ghost Driver” believes that everyone in the paddock is set to show that they’ll be the one to beat in 2014.

“You could think that some would hide a bit of their true poten­tial and only show it in St. Pete, but I can assure you that is not the way it works,” the open-wheel veteran said in an RLL release.

“For some reason we all feel – drivers and teams - that it is the oppor­tu­nity to send a message to the rest of the paddock and everybody’s message wants to be the same: ‘Hey, this year you better count me as the refer­ence!’ Only one driver will be able to send that message at the end of the test.”

Servia is set to run at least four races of the 2014 championship with RLL – Long Beach, Barber, the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and the Indianapolis 500 – alongside the team’s full-time driver, Graham Rahal.

However, the Barber open test will be his first time in an IndyCar since competing for Panther Racing in last year’s season finale at Auto Club Speedway.

The good news is that Servia can lean on Rahal a bit if necessary, as the new face of the National Guard recently logged more than 100 laps at Sebring on an older version of Honda’s new twin-turbo engine. For the Barber test, they’ll each have the latest version of the Honda twin turbo to work with.

Still, Servia acknowledges that things won’t be easy for him at Barber, one of the toughest tracks in all of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“If you are nothing else than your greatest, the track won’t give you a ‘free pass’ and it will show,” he said about the beautiful but challenging circuit. “It is very demanding and that is a big part of its charm. What is great about it too is that with some of the fast and blind corners, the fans can appre­ciate the level of commit­ment it takes from the drivers.

“All and all, it will defi­nitely be a great test to get the winter rust off.”

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.”