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.

Robert Wickens views iRacing debut as major milestone in recovery efforts

Dana Garrett/IndyCar
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This Saturday afternoon will mark an important milestone in the recovery efforts of Robert Wickens.

For the first time since the summer of 2018, the popular Canadian will race against his fellow NTT IndyCar Series competitors – virtually at least – in the second race of the INDYCAR’s iRacing Challenge at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Wickens’ entry in the virtual race is another positive step in his recovery efforts after he sustained a spinal cord injury in an Aug. 19, 2018 crash at Pocono Raceway.

“I’m just excited to drive something,” Wickens said in a Friday teleconference. “Last night was the first time I’ve driven any form of race car since the accident at Pocono. Even though it’s virtual, it still felt pretty good.”

While Wickens is excited to make his first iRacing start, his debut was delayed by a week because he wanted to make sure he had the proper equipment before getting started.

“Simulation was always step number one for me. But unfortunately, through one reason or another, it was very challenging to basically do it right,” Wickens said. “I didn’t want to purchase an Amazon setup and try to learn on that. I wanted to build a good foundation that you can evolve from because I see this as a great training tool for me to make my hand control second nature.”

Wickens withdrew from last week’s event after not receiving the equipment he needed in time. A group of members from the motorsport community headed by Max Papis attempted to overnight Wickens all the necessary equipment, but unfortunately, the package did not arrive at his home until Thursday. He will use a wheel provided by McLaren this weekend.

Regardless, Wickens appreciates the efforts made by Papis and others.

“I think I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but the fact that I have so many people supporting me on my return to this is amazing,” Wickens said. “When Max found out that I was in the market for a steering wheel, he jumped on and just got to work. He actually had already been doing stuff in the background that I wasn’t even aware of. He already had the hardware in his shop. I guess he was just waiting for me to reach out.

“He’s such a good guy. He’s a competitor at heart and although he’s retired from the cockpit, I think he sees his entrepreneurship as a new form of competition. He wants to be the best in the industry and he works hard, and I think he’s doing a great job.”

Wickens admits that with such little time to practice and a temporary wheel, he has a steep learning curve ahead of him. Nonetheless, he views iRacing as an important part of his recovery efforts.

“I always knew that through simulation was going to be the best way to try all the different handbrake configurations or paddle configurations so this is really just step one of 100 to get me back into the NTT IndyCar Series,” Wickens said. 

Some of Wicken’s fellow IndyCar competitors are also happy he will compete in this weekend’s race.

“It’s been great watching his progress,” said Will Power. “I think that like he said, his first step was to get back into a sim. It’s pretty cool that he’s actually able to get on and compete in a competition.”

Graham Rahal is another driver who is excited to race against Wickens again. Both drivers have been competing against each other since go-karts.

“To see his determination, to see his recovery process, to see his mentality and the way he’s thought through this is admirable but is not surprising from him if you’ve known him for a long time,” Rahal said. “I can tell you from going to see him in the hospital pretty early on after the accident that the destination was always there. He’s a guy who just from day one was committed to getting back on his feet and to getting back in a race car. It’s great to have him out here competing with us.”

Coverage of race two of the inaugural INDYCAR iRacing Challenge from virtual Barber Motorsports Park airs live Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994