Dixon on St. Pete: “The car was better than what I got out of it”

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With three finishes outside the top-14 on Sunday, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams did not kick off its 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season in the manner it would have wanted.

Granted, Tony Kanaan was able to salvage a third place, but teammate Scott Dixon ran through the gamut of issues in an ultimately frustrating opening weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Dixon noted the team’s different testing strategy, opting to test more at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park rather than Sebring International Raceway, which is the best track to test for street course conditions.

“We haven’t been to Sebring since last year man,” Dixon told MotorSportsTalk on Tuesday. “The car at St. Pete generally was OK, considering we’d done zero street course tire testing, and haven’t been to Sebring like most teams.”

Dixon had been to Sebring a week before St. Petersburg, but as third driver in CGR’s No. 01 Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

At St. Petersburg, Dixon said he was comfortable on pace in the practice sessions but failed his timing during qualifying en route to getting knocked out in Q2. He qualified ninth for the season opener.

“Ultimately yeah for sure, the car was better than what I showed,” Dixon said. “We hit the track OK. We backed up on a few things.

“The 9 car was strong until qualifying, then in Q2, coming up to my second timed lap, (Simon) Pagenaud was stopped in T10, and then I had to get out of TK’s way when he was on a flier. So I only had one lap to get it together and I fudged it up. The car was better than what I got out of it.”

Of course, if qualifying was bad, the race went worse for Dixon. An air jack failure occurred at his first stop, and as Dixon related, it likely was a small single cheap part failure that caused the issue.

“It looks like the dump valve … which is something Ganassi has had the same type of part for 15 years,” Dixon said. “I could be wrong as I’m not the technical guy … but we think the dump valve seal failed. Go figure a $2 or $5 piece broke and wouldn’t allow the rear air jacks to work.

“Your first thought is that it was the one in the back. We tried to see if it would work. But with no chance of fixing it, you know your day’s done. Pit stops go from eight or nine seconds up to 20 seconds. It was a nightmare.”

Dixon said team owner Chip Ganassi at least laughed it off as a case of the standard early-race curse that seems to strike the team so frequently.

“The first thing that Chip said to me after was, ‘I guess it’s a regular St. Pete.’ I hate hearing that! We ended up fourth last year (and fifth in 2013).”

Being back in the pack – Dixon finished 15th on Sunday – meant Dixon had a bird’s eye view to the contact that took place around the 1.8-mile street circuit.

“It seemed a little harder to pass; the wake was bigger and washout was more,” Dixon said. “The braking zones got smaller as well with more downforce and more drag.

“I thought there’d be a lot more debris, it being the first race, street course, St. Pete out of the box. With the Honda front wing and the size that thing is, it’s ultimately gonna get taken off.

“I expected a fair number of cautions. There was a lot of debris, man. Everyone got through the first stop. But then it was in 9, 10, 2, 5… there was junk everywhere.”

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.