Photo courtesy of IMSA

IMSA: ESM’s Sebring win ended roller coaster day on a high note

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Tequila Patron ESM’s day at the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring can be described in two words: roller coaster.

The team entered Sebring looking to rebound from a disappointing Rolex 24 at Daytona – the Nos. 2 and 22 Nissan Onroak DPi entries fell out early on after running near the front – and qualifying showed that the team had plenty of speed in hand to do so, their No. 2 machine qualifying second and the No. 22 in fourth.

However, the race saw things nearly fall apart for them in Turn 1, Lap 1 when Olivier Pla, in the No. 2 machine, tried an outside pass on polesitter Tristan Vautier in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R. Pla tried to pinch Vautier against the inside barrier, but Vautier held his ground and the two collided, sending Pla sliding off the outside of the corner.

While the slide itself was somewhat innocent, the contact did terminal damage to the car’s gearbox. After Pla limped back around to the pits, the ESM team quickly took the car into the paddock area to further investigate, only to have no choice but to retire the car soon afterward.

That left the team’s hopes for victory alone in the hands of the No. 22 entry, shared by Pipo Derani, Johannes van Overbeek, and Nicolas Lapierre, a seemingly daunting task given the strength of the Prototype field.

However, while many of their competitors stumbled – both Acura Team Penske cars dropped out with mechanical failures, Wayne Taylor Racing battled overheating issues, Mazda Team Joest was plagued with clutch issues in their No. 55 RT-24P, and Action Express saw their No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac spin with the No. 38 Performance Tech Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson – ESM was able to keep things clean and keep the No. 22 machine near the front.

And when Pipo Derani got around Felipe Nasr for the lead with less than two hours remaining, he was able to rocket away into the darkness and give the team it’s second Sebring victory in three years.

“Just Unbelievable. It’s the second victory in three attempts. It’s amazing. From 2016, to having a problem last year, and coming back to win is just amazing,” said an elated Derani, who also helped lead the team to victory in 2016, making a late-charge from fourth to first in the final minutes that year.

Derani also dedicated the victory to his father, who is battling health issues.

“This victory goes to my dad who is watching us back in Brazil and is fighting for his health. I’m just so happy to be able to win and know that he’s watching my race. I just have to thank the entire team for giving me this opportunity to win again and win in front of him.”

Co-driver Johannes van Overbeek, also a part of the 2016 triumph, added that he feels the ESM team showed its true colors in fighting its way to victory.

“I think ESM proved its mettle today,” van Overbeek asserted. “A lot of teams and manufacturers had trouble. The Nissan power worked great all day, and the tires were great. My co-drivers did an amazing job. It was one of those races were everything fell into place when it needed to. We didn’t have any issues whatsoever, and I don’t even think there’s a scratch on the car. That’s the way it should be.”

The victory gives ESM its second endurance race victory in the last three races, the team having won the 2017 Motul Petit Le Mans with Scott Sharp, Ryan Dalziel, and Brendon Hartley in the No. 2 entry

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Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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