IndyCar: Bourdais says tire management remains critical at Texas

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Verizon IndyCar Series squads will have the option to add as much as 300 pounds of downforce to their cars this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, but Sebastien Bourdais believes that tire degradation will still be a major factor.

“This place abuses tires really badly,” Bourdais said after this morning’s first IndyCar practice session on the 1.5-mile oval. “Even though we have more downforce, it’s not huge. We’re still running around with a low amount of downforce compared to what we’re used to running around here.

“It’s definitely taking its toll on tires and it’s all about average speed over the course of the stint. That’s what we’ve been trying to focus on, but in the meantime, you need balance. It’s kind of a mix between max speed and then average speed and the shift between on your own and in traffic as far as balance is concerned.”

The aero package for this weekend was worked out during an April test session at TMS. Firestone is using the same tire spec and construction as it did last year at both Texas and Auto Club Speedway (two-mile oval) in California.

Per the series, the use of tools to reach that higher downforce level would result in an additional 50 pounds of drag – slowing the car but perhaps easing some of the tire degradation issues through fuel runs.

But no matter the amount of additional downforce that teams may use, Texas remains a stiff challenge.

“It’s definitely not a place where it’s easy to find your way around,” Bourdais said. “It’s bumpy. It’s fast. There’s a lot of banking and traffic makes a big incidence in the balance of the car. It’s not easy and it’s always the same thing.

“We came here for the test and the conditions were really, really complicated. There was a lot of wind and it was difficult to get some reads and you show up here and you have two sets of tires to figure the car out.

“It’s very complicated to do everything. You have 75 minutes to finish your race car and one shot at trying to sort out your qualifying car. We’ll see how close we can get it.”

Qualifying for the Firestone 600 will air tonight on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra at 6:30 p.m. ET.

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.”