Scott Dixon captures Sonoma race win and 2015 IndyCar championship (VIDEO)

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SONOMA, Calif. – IndyCar’s “Ice Man,” Scott Dixon, repeated his 2014 win at Sonoma Raceway, and stealthily stole the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship in the process.

He did so on a tiebreaker in the most dramatic of fashions, both tied on 556 points with three wins to Montoya’s two. It’s Dixon’s fourth championship (2003, 2008, 2013) and his 38th career win. The win is also Chip Ganassi Racing’s 100th in IndyCar.

Through a mix of strategy and misfortune that struck his title rivals Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power, and with Graham Rahal having an off day, Dixon came from 47 points back in the double points season finale to win the title.

Dixon beat Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe, with Briscoe holding off Montoya for fifth and the final position he needed to win the title.

The race was always going to be something of a strategy affair with tire fall off present throughout the race, and a mix of different strategies emerging.

A key moment emerged early when Dixon beat Will Power and Josef Newgarden off a round of pit stops, even though there were 12 cars running off sequence ahead of them who did not pit on Lap 35. Dixon was net leader at that point.

While only one yellow occurred in the first 38 laps, and Sebastian Saavedra emerged as a surprise race leader, the race – and championship – took a dramatic turn just before the halfway point.

Montoya and Power collided in Turn 4 on Lap 39. Montoya clipped Power, left front to right rear, although Power later admitted in a post-race interview he took fault for not realizing Montoya is there.  Either way, it dropped them both outside the top 20 in the race, and put them both on the comeback trail.

Saavedra led past halfway before Tony Kanaan took the lead on Lap 45 at Turn 7.

The race took its ultimate turn once Dixon took the lead on Lap 51 for the first time, leading Josef Newgarden, before the final pit stop sequence occurred close to Lap 60.

Dixon pitted on Lap 62 for what would be the final time. Newgarden, who had been second, fell out of contention courtesy of a pit fire and a long stop.

The race took another turn following a heavy accident by James Jakes on Lap 65 at Turn 9, with Jakes indicating a brake failure occurred on his car.

Another yellow occurred when Jack Hawksworth contacted Carlos Munoz at Turn 7, leaving the Colombian beached.

Another notable championship moment occurred when Sebastien Bourdais crashed into Rahal on Lap 78, going into Turn 7. Bourdais was issued a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.

Montoya was then 3.4 seconds behind Briscoe for fifth, needing to pass the former Ganassi and Penske driver to secure the championship. While he clawed the gap to 1.2 seconds, he did not pass him.

Dixon won the title on a tiebreaker, with Montoya now having lost a title on one after winning one over Dixon’s old teammate Dario Franchitti in 1999.

Afterwards, Dixon and team boss Ganassi crowd-surfed.

The reality of what they’ve achieved on-track will take even longer to sink in.

RESULTS

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

1. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
3. (7) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (11) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
5. (17) Ryan Briscoe, Honda, 85, Running
6. (5) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 85, Running
7. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
9. (24) Rodolfo Gonzalez, Honda, 85, Running
10. (14) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 85, Running
11. (8) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
12. (19) Oriol Servia, Honda, 85, Running
13. (10) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (21) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 85, Running
15. (15) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
16. (4) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
17. (20) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
19. (25) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 85, Running
20. (16) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 85, Running
21. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 84, Running
22. (12) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 84, Running
23. (23) Tristan Vautier, Honda, 82, Running
24. (13) Luca Filippi, Chevrolet, 80, Running
25. (22) James Jakes, Honda, 63, Contact

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 94.117
Time of Race: 2:09:14.2620
Margin of victory: 6.1115 seconds
Cautions: 14
Lead changes: 10 among 7 drivers
Lap Leaders:
Power 1 – 13
Hunter-Reay 14
Kimball 15
Andretti 16 – 19
Saavedra 20 – 21
Power 22 – 34
Saavedra 35 -44
Kanaan 45 – 50
Dixon 51 – 61
Hunter-Reay 62
Dixon 63 – 85

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 556, Montoya 556, Power 493, Rahal 490, Castroneves 453, Hunter-Reay 436, Newgarden 431, Kanaan 431, Andretti 429 and Bourdais 406.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds