IndyCar: Dixon at Penske’s heels during Barber test

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Team Penske driver’s Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had company at the top of the speed charts during IndyCar’s two-day test at Barber Motorsports Park.

Scott Dixon.

Power, the defending Verizon IndyCar champion, and Pagenaud topped the charts for the third and first of four sessions respectively.

But it was Dixon, in his No. 9 Target Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, that sped to No. 1 in the second and fourth session, where he grabbed the spot from Power on the very last lap Monday with a time of 1:07.3118 (123.010 mph).

“We spent the morning really chasing the changing track conditions today,” Dixon said afterward. “The track was a lot hotter today compared to yesterday and we had to adjust to that with the Target car.”

While Dixon topped Power’s final session speed, it was the latter who left the Alabama circuit with the overall best lap time of the test, at 1:07.3118 (123.010 mph).

“There are so many variables with the new aero kits as well,” Dixon said of the package that was revealed last week. “We worked a lot on aero and tried to do as many things as we could with the tire allotment we were given here. Overall I think it was a good test for the Target team and I’m looking forward to coming back for the race here next month.”

In five-career starts the Birmingham, Dixon has never started worse than fifth, led 39 laps and finished on the podium every time, just not as the winner. Power on the other hand has three poles in five starts and two wins, coming in 2011 and 2012.

“The aero kits produce so much more downforce and there’s a lot of grip, so the cars are faster everywhere,” Power said. “I would expect to break lap records just about everywhere.

“I think we found some good stuff as a team for St. Petersburg and when we come back to race here.”

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be held on April 26.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.