(Getty Images)

Dixon’s championship reign may be over, but still wants to go out with a win

Leave a comment

For Scott Dixon, Saturday was a bittersweet day of sorts at Sonoma Raceway.

It officially marked the end of his one-year reign as 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champ. A new driver – either Simon Pagenaud or Will Power – will ascend to the IndyCar champion’s throne in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Dixon came into Saturday’s qualifying round with high hopes and expectations that he could make the Firestone Fast Six. And things were looking that way until a mechanical issue cost him a top qualifying spot by a mere .003 of a second.

“We had some major vibration,” Dixon told NBCSN. “I thought I felt it on the black (tire) run and when we switched to the reds, it was really bad. I was really surprised we managed to scrape through there.

“All in all, I think in Q2 the car felt good, we’ve just been struggling with our grip all weekend.”

Sunday ends Scott Dixon’s reign as 2015 IndyCar champ, as well as his last race for Target, which is ending its IndyCar sponsorship after 27 seasons.

As if the vibration wasn’t bad enough, the competition made things worse. Still, Dixon managed to qualify seventh for Sunday’s race.

“The times were just so close,” he said. “The Verizon IndyCar Series right now, the competition is just so cutthroat. We missed by a little bit: .003 of a second, which would have gotten us into the Fast Six.

“But I think in a lot of ways, I’m fairly happy where we qualified considering where we started the weekend.”

Even though disappointed he didn’t make it into the top 6, Dixon in a way has history on his side for yet another potential win Sunday: his three previous wins at Sonoma have come from qualifying efforts of third, fifth and ninth (last year).

Plus he also has another bit of significant incentive: Sunday will mark his final day of racing with Target sponsorship. The company announced in late July that it was ending its IndyCar sponsorship, which began in 1990, after 27 seasons.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

F1: Sebastian Vettel incurs costly penalty during Friday’s U.S. Grand Prix practice

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Lewis Hamilton got a gift from F1 officials when Sebastian Vettel was penalized three places on the starting grid for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix for not slowing down enough for a red flag during Friday’s morning practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Vettel insists he abided by the rules.

“I think I slowed down,” the Ferrari driver said. “I had a good look around at what was going on. The rules are clear so we know.

“They [the stewards] were very specific, saying I took 27.7 seconds to slow down. I saw the red flag, I slowed down, I had a look around where the car was potentially stuck in the wall or if there was one around Turn 9 or 10.

“Then I slowed down significantly to comply with the rules. … They found it too long. I think it was straightforward.

“On top of it there might have been an issue with the timing, the system. I don’t know. … I think it’s wrong.”

Vettel also said he was worried that “if there is a car right behind you, it might run into you. But it is more important you don’t get a penalty.”

Hamilton recorded the fastest lap in the morning session in his Mercedes. Vettel, meanwhile, is essentially in a win-or-else situation if he hopes to prevent Hamilton from clinching the 2018 F1 championship.

Being penalized makes Vettel’s chances all the more difficult. Short of winning Sunday, the only other way Vettel can keep Hamilton from winning his fifth F1 crown is if he finishes within seven points of Hamilton.

Hamilton currently leads Vettel by 67 points. If Hamilton doesn’t clinch the title this weekend, it’ll be on to Mexico City next weekend for another chance at sealing the championship deal.

Hamilton’s previous championships have come in three of the last four seasons (2014, 2015 and 2017), as well as his first in 2008.

Friday’s second practice was washed out, for all intents and purposes. Hamilton logged just eight minutes and couldn’t go faster than he did in the soggy conditions earlier in the morning, while Vettel managed just 12 minutes on-track in the second session.

Saturday’s forecast calls for more rain, but Sunday’s race day outlook calls for dry conditions.

Follow @JerryBonkowski