Mixed 250th start for Dixon: up in points, down to P7 at finish in Milwaukee

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MILWAUKEE – If the Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle for 2015 comes down to Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon – and after Sunday’s ABC Supply Co. Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers, it looks like it will – then the final 25 laps on the historic half mile could make all the difference in the final numbers.

Dixon started 10th in the No. 9 Cottonelle Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, but excellent pit work from his crew got him up to second after the first pit stop sequence, and into the lead after the second stop by Lap 103.

He was in podium position the rest of the day from there, before restarting in sixth place on Lap 232 after race winner Sebastien Bourdais, Montoya and Ed Carpenter stayed out on the final yellow period.

Dixon had fresher tires and got behind Montoya by Lap 237, and sought to get around the Colombian. However, on Lap 245, Dixon’s car washed out behind Montoya, got in the gray and fell back three positions. He dropped three positions to eighth, but gained a spot on the final lap in getting around Marco Andretti.

Speaking to MotorSportsTalk after the race, Dixon said it was hard racing but he was frustrated with the way things went down between he and Montoya.

“He just, I think, was racing more in his mirrors, which you’re going to do at that point,” Dixon told MotorSportsTalk.

“I wasn’t sure if his spotter was telling him where I was. I tried the low side in 3 and 4, then he did low side, then he did high side in 1 and 2, then he moved up. It caught me off guard. I got up in the gray and lost three spots.”

Montoya, who finished fourth, saw the exchange differently.

“The 9 car came and his tires were off, he couldn’t pass me,” Montoya told MotorSportsTalk.

Dixon fell out of the lead after the first yellow flag period of the race, with the different strategies moving him back to sixth at that time. That wasn’t what cost him a good result, he said.

“I got pushed out on one of the restarts on the high side and got trounced by a few,” Dixon said. “Then the strategy that the 11 [Bourdais] and the 3 [Helio Castroneves] and those guys were on ultimately worked out, because they had clear track. Same for the 2 [Montoya].

“If you had clear track you could run as fast as you needed to, even against guys who were on better tires. As long as you placed the car in front of the car behind you, they wouldn’t be able to pass you, and that’s what happened between me and Montoya in Turn 1.”

Dixon lost only five points to Montoya on the day, and actually moved into second in points following Will Power’s accident past the halfway mark. He trails JPM by 54 points with four races to go.

But it still was a less than satisfying result for Dixon in his 250th career North American start.

F1 2017 driver review: Esteban Ocon

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Esteban Ocon

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 31
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P5 (Spain, Mexico)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 87
Championship Position: 8th

A shining star in Mercedes’ junior programme, Esteban Ocon vaulted fellow youngster Pascal Wehrlein in the pecking order to secure a seat at Force India for 2017 – and boy, did he live up to the hype.

Ocon arrived at Force India with half a season of racing under his belt after his outings with Manor late in 2016, but wasted little time in settling in, scoring points on debut in Australia after winning a thrilling three-way fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso.

The Frenchman spent much of the year close to teammate Sergio Perez – even if things did get a little too close in Canada, Baku and, finally, Spa, prompting the team to introduce team orders – and impressed the entire paddock with his displays.

While no podium was forthcoming, Ocon was often leading the midfield fight, enjoying three straight finishes ahead of Perez from Japan to Mexico. Given how well Perez is rated on-track in the paddock, to have convincingly beaten him in such fashion did a lot for Ocon’s reputation.

The term ‘Oconsistency’ also came into F1’s dictionary as he set a new record for consecutive finishes from his first race, with his retirement in Brazil ending the streak at 27 grands prix. It was also his first retirement in a single-seater race since the 2014 Macau Grand Prix.

The highlight moment arguably came at Monza, though, when Ocon stuck his Force India third on the grid through torrential rain in qualifying. While he would drop to P6 at the checkered flag, the display nevertheless cemented his place as one of F1’s rising stars.

Mercedes rates Ocon very highly, and with Valtteri Bottas’ future beyond 2018 already being questioned by the paddock, a good season could see the youngster move on up to the top table of F1 for 2019. His progression in the next 12 months will be fascinating to keep track of.

Season High: Lining up P3 on the grid at Monza after a rainy qualifying.

Season Low: Clashing with Perez in Baku, costing Force India a possible podium.