Power wins, Dixon penalized at GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

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Will Power broke his winless drought dating to Brazil in May of 2012 with his first win of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

However, the win was overshadowed in controversy after the last round of pit stops. Scott Dixon, who was pitted behind Power in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing No. 9 stall, hit a tire that was being carried by one of Power’s crewmembers, and went into a second crewmember, on exit.

Dixon alleged that Power’s crew had moved into Dixon’s pit space and in fact jumped in front of the New Zealander on exit. Following a restart, Dixon was assessed a drive-through penalty for what was deemed a pit lane violation and fell to the back of the field. He ultimately finished 15th.

Dixon, Power and IndyCar race director Beaux Barfield all spoke to NBCSN in the immediate aftermath to express their side of the story.

From Dixon to NBCSN’s Kevin Lee: “He’s walked towards us on purpose, and that’s probably the most blatant thing I’ve seen in a long time. That was a bit of a (expletive) move to be honest. I’m pretty annoyed with that. I look forward to seeing what race control’s decision is all about. Race control’s consistency is horrible.”

Dixon and Barfield have hardly been friends in Barfield’s tenure that began ahead of 2012. Barfield admitted a blown call at the Milwaukee Mile race in 2012 regarding one of Dixon’s restarts.

Race winner Power to NBCSN’s Marty Snider in victory lane: “It’s hard to say but Dixon took a big hit there. I feel bad for him. But things like that have happened to us a lot the last two years.” Asked whether he felt it was intentional, in response to Dixon’s accusation, Power said, “I mean I’d be very surprised. I haven’t seen it yet, so it isn’t worth commenting on.”

Lastly, Barfield to NBCSN’s Jon Beekhuis: “Ultimately we have a duty to protect everyone in the pit lane. If someone uses less judgment when they leave the pit box, we have to make a statement by penalizing. There’s a couple of different angles, and the lines are a bit confusing.  The 9 car crossed right into the 12 car’s space, and that’s where the violation occurred. I feel good with the statement we made; we want to keep this pit lane as safe as we can.”

Beyond the contretemps, the rest of the top five was Justin Wilson in second, Dario Franchitti third, Marco Andretti fourth and Simon Pagenaud fifth. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished sixth ahead of points leader Helio Castroneves, with James Hinchcliffe, Simona de Silvestro and Sebastien Bourdais in the top 10.

It was a caution-filled race with a record seven interrupting the 85-lap race. Unofficially, Castroneves leads Dixon by 39 points with four races remaining.

IZOD IndyCar Series
GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
SONOMA, Calif. – Results Sunday of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.385 mile Sonoma Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (3) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
2. (7) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
3. (1) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
4. (11) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
5. (10) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
6. (4) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
7. (5) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
8. (9) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
9. (22) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
10. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
11. (8) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
12. (14) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
13. (16) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
14. (15) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
15. (2) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
16. (18) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
17. (21) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 85, Running
18. (25) James Davison, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running
19. (23) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 84, Running
20. (6) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 83, Runnin
21. (20) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 81, Contact
22. (24) Lucas Luhr, Dallara-Honda, 81, Mechanical
23. (13) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 67, Mechanical
24. (17) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 56, Mechanical
25. (19) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 28, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 86.401
Time of Race: 02:20:46.8226
Margin of victory: 1.1930
Cautions: 7/21 laps
Lead changes: 7

Lap Leaders:
Franchitti 1 – 17
Hunter-Reay 18 – 23
Wilson 24 – 33
Dixon 34 – 45
Kanaan 46 – 50
Hinchcliffe 51 – 54
Dixon 55 – 69
Power 70 – 85

Point Standings: Castroneves 479, Dixon 440, Hunter-Reay 417, Andretti 409, Pagenaud 380, Franchitti 379, Wilson 361, Power 356, Hinchcliffe 350, Kimball 335

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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