Dixon dominates Texas for second win of 2018

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Saturday night’s DXC Technology 600 saw Scott Dixon dominate the second half of the race to take his second win of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, and his third at Texas Motor Speedway.

Dixon, who started seventh, cracked the top five on Lap 73 following the first round of pit stops, and assumed the lead on Lap 132 following a round of pit stops, cycling ahead of then leader Robert Wickens.

Dixon never surrendered the lead on track from there, only losing it during cycles of green flag pit stops, to lead 119 laps and eventually win by over four seconds.

The win is the 43rd of Dixon’s career and breaks a tie between him and Michael Andretti for third on the all-time IndyCar wins list, and vaults him into the championship lead, by 23 points over Alexander Rossi.

“All around great team effort. Everybody at the PNC Bank crew was good. Car setup was obviously phenomenal. Strategy was perfect. So it’s nice to have one of those nights. It’s not too often you get sort of a runaway especially in the series at the moment. It was kind of cool to see for us,” Dixon expressed afterward.

Behind him, Simon Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, and James Hinchcliffe engaged in a thrilling battle for second in the final laps. Rossi tried several times to pass Pagenaud on the outside entering Turn 1, but never was able to clear Pagenaud, allowing Hinchcliffe to close in as well.

In the end, Pagenaud hung on to finish second – overcoming a tire blistering issue in the process – with Rossi rounding out the podium in third ahead of Hinchcliffe in fourth. Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the top five, finishing fifth.

Graham Rahal (sixth), Takuma Sato (seventh), Sebastien Bourdais (eighth), Ed Jones (ninth), and Charlie Kimball (tenth) rounded out to the top 10.

Pole sitter Josef Newgarden led the opening 60 laps before his first pit stop, but made an unscheduled stop on Lap 97 after suffering tire blisters. Newgarden did get back on the lead lap following a Lap 205 crash, involving Will Power and Zachary Claman De Melo, and ran inside the top 10, but was penalized for jumping a restart with 34 laps left. Newgarden ended up 13th at the end.

The aforementioned Wickens led in the second stint of the race, and looked poised to battle Dixon for the win in the second half of the race. However, his run ended early on Lap 173, as he crashed entering Turn 3 while trying to lap Ed Carpenter.

While tire falloff was somewhat limited – speeds only fell about 3-4 mph over a stint – blistering issues impacted a handful of drivers throughout the race, with the Team Penske drivers appearing to suffer the most issues.

As previously described, Newgarden fell out of contention early on after an unscheduled stop on Lap 97. Teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power also battled similar issues, but elected to stay out rather than make unscheduled stops.

After Newgarden led early, Wickens assumed the lead on Lap 97, passing Pagenaud, who cycled into the lead following the initial round of pit stops.

Wickens held the lead until he made his next stop on Lap 127, and ran second behind Dixon when he assumed the lead on Lap 132.

With Dixon sprinting away, Wickens and Rossi battled for second, with Rossi eventually taking second as Wickens got hung up behind lapped traffic.

Wickens’ night then ended on Lap 173, when he and Ed Carpenter crashed in Turn 3. Wickens had been trying to lap Carpenter, but was pinched on the inside entering Turn 3. The two made contact and spun into the outside wall. Carpenter later admitted he was at fault for the incident.

The caution was the second incident of the race – Matheus Leist brought out the first yellow on Lap 7 when his No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing slowed and caught fire in Turn 3, though Leist managed to quickly jump out of the car before the fire spread.

With the leaders pitting on Lap 178 under the Wickens/Carpenter caution, it left them just outside the fuel window to make it to the finish. However, several drivers, including Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal, topped off the fuel prior to a Lap 186 restart, and appeared good to make the finish if the race stayed green.

Indeed, they were in fuel conservation mode when racing resumed on Lap 186, but both ran solidly inside the top 10 while doing so, with Hunter-Reay even holding strong inside the top five.

However, the Lap 205 caution for Will Power and Zachary Claman De Melo saw their strategy fall apart. Claman De Melo got a nice run on the outside of Turns 3 and 4 and tried Rahal and Power, getting to the outside of Power exiting Turn 4.

Alas, Power washed up into Claman De Melo exiting the corner, and they both made wall contact on the front straightaway, ending their nights early.

Power also is slated to receive a post-race penalty for avoidable contact, as he was deemed at fault for the incident.

The caution allowed everyone to pit on Lap 210, well within the window to make the finish on fuel.

A restart with 34 laps remaining saw Dixon immediately sprint away from the field, and he cruised home to take the victory, his second in the last three races, ahead of Pagenaud, Rossi, Hinchcliffe, and Hunter-Reay.

For Dixon, the win also is a source of immense pride and accomplishment, as he officially passed Michael Andretti for third on the all-time wins list. And Dixon is quick to admit how privileged and fortunate he feels to be mentioned among the sport’s all-time greats.

“It’s really cool. Obviously I have massive respect for a lot of these drivers. But when you look at those names, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, the Unsers, to me it still seems very strange that ‘Dixon’ is on that list, too,” he revealed.

“I feel very privileged and lucky to do what I get to do. I love racing. I love the Verizon IndyCar Series. I think it’s the best racing on the planet, one of the most difficult with all the disciplines. For me, man, I just hope it continues. I hope we can keep a winning style, pick up wins. It’s so difficult right now it’s so competitive.”

Second-place finisher Pagenaud was plenty excited to be back on the podium, his first time there since he won last year’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“It was fun. I mean, I had a lot of good battles, especially with Alexander at the end. Gave me some gray hair, the last 30 laps. But we managed to hold him off. That was really cool,” Said the 2016 IndyCar champion.

Pagenaud added, “Just to get a good result like this for us, I think the 22 team needed a break. I think we got one tonight. For DXC, it’s pretty awesome. We had about three thousand employees from DXC tonight, so it was good to have a good showing.”

Rossi added that, after his error in Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, he was keen to ensure he ended up with a podium finish, even if it meant playing things a little safe while battling with Pagenaud.

“After last weekend, there was really no point in taking unnecessary risks,” he explained. “But the NAPA car was good enough to fight Scott probably. I don’t know if we had enough to beat him. But I think we were really good on tire life, ultimate pace. There wasn’t a car I felt less superior to, I guess. A good night for the whole NAPA team and Andretti. Yeah, we’ll just take another podium and focus towards Road America.

Results are below. The Verizon IndyCar Series now takes a weekend off before heading to Road American for the KOHLER Grand Prix (June 24, NBCSN).

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F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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