INDYCAR: Dixon wins at Toronto, nearly doubles points lead over Newgarden

Leave a comment

In a race that at times got rather chaotic, Scott Dixon remained patient and focused, capturing Sunday’s 34th annual edition of the Honda Indy Toronto.

Dixon really put on an exhibition on the temporary street course around Toronto’s Exhibition Place, taking the lead from pole sitter Josef Newgarden when the latter glanced off the wall on Lap 33 and – with the exception of cycling through on a few pit stops – never really let the lead get too far out of his hands.

“I’m worn out, man, it was definitely a physical race,” Dixon told NBCSN. “The car was superb. We just needed some clean air and we were able to check out.”

The win was Dixon’s third career triumph at Toronto. His previous two wins there both came in 2013.

It also was his 44th career INDYCAR win and third of the 2018 season, and comes one week before his 38th birthday (July 22). The four-time IndyCar champion, in pursuit of his fifth career title, also is now tied A.J. Foyt for second place on the INDYCAR career top-fives list.

The win helped Dixon not only remain the points leader in the Verizon IndyCar Series with five races remaining, but also padded his margin from 33 to 62 points over Josef Newgarden.

“It was definitely a tough race, definitely tough on the restarts,” Dixon said. “We just have to keep these points rolling. … Huge congrats to the team. I’m stoked. This is awesome.”

As for Dixon markedly increasing his lead in the points, Newgarden — who won this race last year and two of the previous three races there — told NBCSN, “Yeah, we can get him, absolutely. We’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help, but we’ve got plenty of racing left, we have to keep our head up and we’ll be just fine. We have fast cars that are the best in the business. We get our mistakes sorted out and we’ll be just fine.”

Dixon won by 5.2701 seconds over runner-up Simon Pagenaud, the latter enjoying one of his best days in a season that has had its share of struggles. It was Pagenaud’s first-ever podium in nine tries in Toronto.

“It was hard racing, good racing, man, I really had fun,” Pagenaud told NBCSN. “It was a blast to drive. Really difficult, but when you have a good result like this, it’s very rewarding. I think we showed we’re back, so I’m excited.

“We’ve had good seasons. We’ve had not so-good seasons. The big thing is to bounce back and I think we’re doing just that. We’re working diligently in the background and I think it showed this weekend.”

Canadian and rookie INDYCAR driver Robert Wickens finished third, followed by fellow Canadian countryman and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate, James Hinchcliffe, and Charlie Kimball (who earned a season-best and top finish for the new Carlin Racing team).

“It was amazing,” Wickens told NBCSN, shortly after donning the Canadian flag on his shoulders. “Normally, I’m not an overly teary-eyed guy, but that was really cool.

“I can’t thank the Toronto fans enough. This whole week has been such a whirlwind of emotions. To stand on the podium in my first professional home race, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

It was Wickens’ third podium showing in the first 12 races of his first INDYCAR season.

“We had a great car in the race,” Wickens said. “I don’t think anyone had anything for Scott today. Dixie was in a class of his own today.”

Added Hinchcliffe, who won last week at Iowa, “I’m really proud of the boys, happy for Robby (Wickens) and it’s awesome to have two (SPM) cars in the top-5 here in Toronto.”

Sixth through 10th were Tony Kanaan, Zach Veach, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Marco Andretti, who likely would have finished perhaps as high as fourth had he not been forced to pit for a splash of fuel with two laps remaining.

“I just saw the collector (fuel indicator light) go on and my heart just sunk,” Andretti told NBCSN. “We had a top-4 pace. I’m really disappointed. I maybe had a shot at a podium, but definitely fourth.”

Meanwhile, Kanaan told NBCSN, “I wanted to come here and have a good result. This is the best result of the year for us so far. Everything went well.”

There were several incidents in the 85-lap race:

* On Lap 13, rookie Ed Jones became the first driver to come into the pits for service and promptly stalled it for several seconds. He finally was able to get going, just barely in front of race leader Josef Newgarden, keeping Jones from going a lap down.

* On Lap 23, Sebastien Bourdais spun in Turn 1 and bounced off the tire wall. He was able to back up and get going again, negating the need for a caution flag. Bourdais took his car to pit road to replace the rear wing that was damaged in the incident.

* On Lap 29, Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both suffered mishaps that brought out the caution flag. Hunter-Reay spun in Turn 3 and then could not get his car restarted before assistance arrived to get him going again. Then, almost at the same time, Rossi suffered front wing damage after contact with Will Power on the long back straightaway. Hunter-Reay (rear wing), Rossi (front wing) and Power (rear suspension) all eventually came to the pits for repairs, losing valuable time.

* On the restart on Lap 34, Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Max Chilton, Sebastien Bourdais, Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal all crashed in Turn 1. This came just seconds after pole sitter Josef Newgarden slammed the wall heading into Turn 1, dropping him from near the front of the pack to 13th place. Rossi actually was launched into the air and sailed over Rahal’s car.

“Man, it’s not a DNF, but it’s kind of like a DNF in the season,” said Power, who finished 18th. “We’re still going to keep pushing away. There’s double points at the end (in the season finale at Sonoma), and that can be a 100 point swing, so we’re still in the game.”

* On Lap 44, rookie Rene Binder stalled in Turn 8 shortly after Newgarden and Ed Jones twice bounced off each other but were able to continue on.

* On Lap 68, Takuma Sato hit the Turn 2 wall hard and took his car off-course, ending his day.

* On Lap 77, Spencer Pigot, who had been enjoying a fairly good run, suffered a suspension failure and headed for the pits, also calling it a day.

The series now enjoys a weekend off — although several teams will test Tuesday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course — with the next race scheduled for Sunday, July 29, at Mid-Ohio.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

IMSA
Leave a comment

IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.