What to watch for: IndyCar at St. Pete (VIDEO)

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Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Round 1 of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship

Green Flag: 3:27 p.m. ET

Weather Forecast: Sunny, mid-70s

Circuit: 1.8 miles, 14 turns

Race Distance: 110 laps, 198 miles

Qualifying Recap

Pit Road Assignments

KANAAN’S QUEST

Now with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Indianapolis 500 champ Tony Kanaan has another chance – maybe his last – to claim a second Verizon IndyCar Series crown. He’s starting second on the grid today in the No. 10 Target Chevrolet, and a win in St. Petersburg would legitimize his bid for the championship – not to mention prove that he’s still got plenty of muscle on road/street courses.

EYE ON THE ROOKIES

Two of the four rookies – Carlos Munoz, who led this morning’s final warmup, and Jack Hawksworth – will be starting toward the front of the field. The other two rookies, Mikhail Aleshin and Carlos Huertas, are starting farther back. It’s always interesting to see how newbies fare on track with their veteran competitors in race conditions and, also, how they’ll handle their first pit stops.

IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN

Saturday’s major storm in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg region has effectively turned the 1.8-mile street circuit into a green race track, and that could make an impact right at the start as the field fights for grip while heading into the right-hand Turn 1. Drivers may be on their tip-toes for a bit until the circuit begins to rubber up.

GET THE RHYTHM

Drivers can throw the race away in the ‘rhythm section’ of the course – Turns 5 through 9. It’s very tight confines in there and should drivers somehow clip the inside walls at 8 and 9, they might get sent toward the outside walls and into the path of other competitors. Nailing 9 is key, as it leads into the backstretch run to a prime passing zone at Turn 10.

NO CLEAR FAVORITE

Four different competitors topped the practice sessions going into this afternoon’s race: James Hinchcliffe (starting 21st), pole sitter Takuma Sato, Ryan Briscoe (starting ninth), and Munoz (starting seventh). And the field has been tightly packed behind them in those practices.

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.”