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IndyCar Preview: Bommarito Automotive Group 500

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Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series sees a return to Gateway Motorsports Park for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500. With only four races remaining, the championship picture is now in full focus and, if last year is any indication, Gateway could prove to be one of the most pivotal moments in the championship fight.

The aforementioned 2017 outing saw champion-to-be Josef Newgarden make an aggressive pass on teammate Simon Pagenaud for the win, asserting both his status within Team Penske and his willingness to do whatever was necessary to claim a championship, including “roughing up” a teammate a little.

Newgarden is again in the title picture this year, but only on the fringe – he sits 66 points behind leader Scott Dixon. Better positioned, however, is Alexander Rossi. The winner of the last two IndyCar races sits 29 points behind Dixon and has the gumption to challenge the great Dixon. Expect an all-out duel between them if they’re at the front together.

Talking points ahead of Gateway are below.

Wickens At the Front of Everyone’s Mind

Robert Wickens continues to recover from injuries sustained in the horrifying crash at Pocono Raceway last weekend Photo: IndyCar

One week removed from the horrifying accident that produced arm, leg, and spinal injuries for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens, the 29-year-old Canadian remains in everyone’s thoughts.

Several updates have come in this week on Wickens’ condition, and the most recent one details that he underwent surgery to have titanium rods and screws placed in his spine to stabilize what has been described as a thoracic spine injury, and the procedure was completed successfully without complications.

It is never easy to continue racing in the aftermath of such an ordeal, but that’s exactly what the teams, drivers, and series will do. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, in particular, should be commended for their handling of the situation. They have provided updates as often as they can and in a manner that is appropriate and sensitive to the severity of the situation.

James Hinchcliffe, who suffered cuts to his hands in the accident last Sunday but was checked, cleared, and released, will be behind the wheel of his No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda. The team has also elected not to field the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda that would have been driven by Wickens, meaning Hinchcliffe will be flying solo this weekend.

Already fan favorites, Hinch and SPM will undoubtedly be the sentimental favorite at Gateway. And given that Hinchcliffe is a winner on the most recent short oval (Iowa Speedway), don’t be surprised if he and SPM find themselves at the front again.

Short Oval Thrills

The 2018 aero kit has been a winner on short ovals in 2018. Photo: IndyCar

While the super speedways have left a little to be desired in 2018 in terms of the on-track product, short ovals continue to be an absolute thrill show.

ISM Raceway featured an improvement over the previous runnings, helped by Alexander Rossi unlapping himself under green on his way to finishing on the podium.

And Iowa Speedway was one of the best short oval races in recent memory, with nearly 1,000 on-track passes that culminated in the aforementioned Hinchcliffe chasing down Josef Newgarden for the win.

Gateway is not the bull ring that ISM and Iowa are, but it is nonetheless classified as a short oval – it stands at 1.25 miles in length.

Further, it was one of the best events of 2017 and featured a crowd reportedly greater than 40,000, making it one of the best attended races on the schedule.

If that type of a crowd returns, and if the racing we saw at ISM and Iowa comes to the fore, then Saturday night could be another night to remember.

Rossi/Dixon Title Fight Could Be One for the Ages 

Alexander Rossi has become the star everyone hoped he would be after winning the 100th Indianapolis 500. The Californian who spent most of his junior career in Europe quickly assimilated himself back into the American Racing scene, and has become admired the world over for a hard-charging style. And while it has occasionally gotten him in trouble, it has more often than not paid dividends.

Alexander Rossi has won back-to-back races. Photo: IndyCar

Rossi is the challenger, but Dixon is the master.

Dixon’s legend has been widely reported on of late, and deservedly so. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is the greatest of his generation, and is among the greatest drivers anywhere in the modern era.

Scott Dixon remains every bit of his dominant self and currently leads the IndyCar championship. Photo: IndyCar

What is on the table is a classic duel between the long-established master and the hungry newcomer. Last year, Josef Newgarden – the “hungry newcomer” that year – came out on top ahead of people like Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power.

This year, despite featuring fewer players, is set up in a similar way…and it could lead to a genuine classic that we may be talking about for years – either because Dixon outdueled one of IndyCar’s young lions, or because Rossi outdueled the master.

Misc.

  • Gabby Chaves returns to the No. 88 Chevrolet for Harding Racing at Gateway. Conor Daly ran the previous three races for them, but is competing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America this weekend.
  • Since this is the final oval of 2018, it marks the final race of the year for Ed Carpenter, who will yield to Jordan King for the final two races at Portland International Raceway and Sonoma Raceway. Carpenter has top 10s in four of his previous five starts in 2018, but is still looking for his first victory since 2014.

The Final Word…

From Alexander Rossi, winner of back-to-back races entering Gateway:

“I’m so thrilled to be returning to Gateway Motorsports Park after the spectacular event we had last year. I think this track is one of the absolute best in terms of the effort that they put in to promote our series, and I hope to put on a great show for them. We are obviously nearing the end of the season, so we will be looking to continue to close the gap to Scott (Dixon) this weekend. With that said, all of our thoughts are still with Rob (Wickens) and his family at this time.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule: 

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, Aug. 24
12:15 p.m.- 1:15 p.m. (1:15 – 2:15 ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
4:00 p.m. (5:00 p.m. ET) – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (single car/cumulative time of two laps), RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)/NBCSN (Taped, 7:30 p.m. ET Aug. 26)
8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  (9:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET) – Verizon IndyCar Series final practice, RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, Aug. 25
7:00 p.m. (8:00 p.m. ET) – NBCSN on air
7:35 p.m. (8:35 p.m. ET) – Bommarito Automotive Group 500 (248 laps/310 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Scott Dixon
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Conor Daly
6. Alexander Rossi
7. Charlie Kimball
8. James Hinchcliffe
9. Carlos Munoz
10. Sebastien Bourdais

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Dakar Stage 8 Highlights: Ricky Brabec blows engine, retires

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The motorcycle class of the Dakar Rally has been a seesaw affair through seven stages, but Ricky Brabec seemed poised to win the class for the USA. Until he blew an engine in Stage 8 that is – and gave up a more-than seven second lead. He was the second rider to retire after starting the stage as the leader. Joan Barreda retired in Stage 3.

Brabec was looking to become the first American rider to win in 27 years, but his fate was eerily similar to last year. Three days from the end of the stage, he retired about 50 kilometers into the stage, which is precisely when and where he retired in 2018.

With Brabec’s trouble, Toby Price leapfrogged from third to second in class despite riding with a metal pin in his wrist. In the world’s most grueling endurance event, it has never been more obvious that it isn’t over till it’s over.

Meanwhile, Nasser Al-Attiyah continues to run a consistent rally. With a 46 minute advantage over Nani Roma and Sebastien Loeb, all he needs to do is stay error free for the final two stages to win his third Dakar.

Here are some of the other highlights:

In the cars class, Sebastien Loeb scored his fifth stage win of the Rally by seven minutes over Nasser Al-Attiyah, but problems in Stage 3 have kept him from being competitive for the overall lead. … Jakub Przygonski earned his third podium of the Rally. All of these have been third-place finishes.

Class Leaders: Al-Attiyah holds an advantage of 46:29 over Roma and 46:45 over Loeb.

In motorcycles, Ricky Brabec’s blown engine opened up the class once more. … Matthias Walkner narrowly edged Pablo Quintanilla by 45 seconds. … But it was Toby Price’s third-place finish that helped elevate him to the class lead. … Sam Sunderland was supposed to blaze the path for the riders, but a malfunctioning navigation system kept him from rolling off first. Blazing the trail is a disadvantage and officials adjudged him to have tampered with his system to avoid that fate. Sunderland was penalized an hour to finish 35th on the stage. He dropped to ninth in class.

Class Leaders: Price inherited the lead over Quintanilla by 1:03 and 6:35 over Walkner

In side by sides, Francisco Lopez Contardo scored the victory over Cristian Baumgart by 4:47. … Gerard Farres Guell rounded out the top three.

Class Leaders: Contardo holds an advantage 0f 54:10 over Rodrigo Piazolli and one hour, 08:09 over Guell

In quads, there was no surprise in Nicolas Cavigliasso winning his seventh stage of the season. … He padded his overall advantage over Gustavo Gallego by more than nine minutes. … Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli finished third.

Class Leaders: Cavigliasso holds and advantage of one hour, 24:52 over Ferioli and one hour, 44:04 over Gallego

In trucks, Dmitry Sotnikov won the stage to take over the class lead. He beat Ton Van Genugten by 22:01. … Siarhei Viazovich rounded out the top three. … Eduard Nikolaev lost the class lead by finishing eighth – nearly one hour behind Sotnikov.

Class Leaders: Sotnikov holds an advantage of 26:49 over and one hour, 7:43 over Gerard de Rooy

Stage Wins

Motorcycles
Sam Sunderland [2] (Stage 5 and 7), Matthias Walkner [2] (Stage 2 and 8), Joan Barreda [1] (Stage 1), Xavier de Soultrait [1] (Stage 3), Ricky Brabec [1] (Stage 4) and Pablo Quintanilla [1] (Stage 6)

Quads
Nicolas Cavigliasso [7] (Stage 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) and Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli [1] (Stage 3)

Cars
Sebastien Loeb [4] (Stage 2, 5, 6 and 8), Nasser Al-Attiyah [2] (Stage 1 and 4) and Stephane Peterhansel [2] (Stage 3 and 7)

Side-by-sides
Francisco Lopez Contardo [4] (Stage 2, 6, 7 and 8), Reinaldo Varela [1] (Stage 1), Gerard Farres Guell [1] (Stage 3), Sergei Kariakin [1] (Stage 4) and Rodrigo Piazzoli [1] (Stage 5)

Trucks
Eduard Nikolaev [3] (Stage 1, 2 and 5), Andrey Karginov [2] (Stage 3 and 4), Dmitry Sotnikov [2] (Stage 6 and 8) and Gerard de Rooy [1] (Stage 7)

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