IndyCar: Dixon cites driver error for missing the pole, Rossi laments tire gamble in qualifying

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Qualifying for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was always going to be critical, with a championship point on the line and all four championship contenders – Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden – desperately wanting it for themselves, or at least hoping their title rivals didn’t secure it.

As the seconds ticked down, it appeared a certainty that Dixon would secure the pole and the point that goes along with it, which would have increased his lead over Rossi to 30 points, and 88 over Power and Newgarden.

And even though he made a mistake on his final run – he had to shortcut the Turn 9/9a chicane after braking loose on entry – he remained in P1 due to his lap from earlier in the Firestone Fast Six, and he still looked good to take the pole.

That is, until Ryan Hunter-Reay, the last man on track, came through to snatch it away.

Dixon was his usual gracious self afterward, admitting his mistake and offering congratulations to Hunter-Reay.

“I think we definitely had a shot to put the PNC Bank car on pole today, but we’ll have to chalk that up to driver error,” Dixon explained. “I had a lap going that would have gotten the pole, but I just made a mistake and it cost us. Congrats to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti (Autosport) on the pole, though. We’ve had a fast car all weekend here at Sonoma and we’ve stayed at the pointy end of the field since we unloaded. Hopefully, that will continue in the race tomorrow and we can finish the season strong.”

Alexander Rossi, meanwhile, lamented a qualifying gamble that saw him only use the Firestone primary blacks in the Firestone Fast Six while everyone else used the alternate reds.

Rossi explained that he and the No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Andretti Autosport team wanted to stay aggressive, as has been their habit in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, but that it simply backfired.

Alexander Rossi gambled on using the Firestone primary blacks in the Fast Six, but it ultimately backfired. Photo: IndyCar

“I don’t think going out on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) was the right call, but we’re trying to stay aggressive and trying to capitalize in areas where we think we can,” Rossi lamented. “In the end of the day, I don’t think we had the pace for Ryan (Hunter-Reay), but we decided to try something different and see where it got us. This race is 85 laps. It’s pretty difficult to just do one lap around here, let alone 85, so we’ll make sure we build a good race car.”

Still, Rossi is not bothered by starting behind Dixon in Sunday’s race – Dixon qualified second, while Rossi will start sixth.

“I don’t see us starting behind Dixon as that big of an issue, we just need to make sure we build a good race car and make sure we do the best job that we can and extract the most out of the No. 27,” he asserted.

Power and O’Ward Surprise During Qualifying, but for Very Different Reasons

Perhaps the two biggest surprises from Saturday qualifying were Will Power and Patricio O’Ward. However, they were for vastly different reasons.

For Power, who has won at Sonoma Raceway three times, expectations were that he would battle for the pole. Indeed, he advanced out of Round 1 with relative ease, but things did not go according to plan after that.

In Round 2, Power tried to advance to the Fast Six by doing a one-lap run at the end. However, things did not go according to plan and he just missed the Fast Six as a result.

Power admitted afterward that he and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team simply made a mistake.

Will Power failed to make the Fast Six after trying a one-lap run late in Round 2. Photo: IndyCar

“It wasn’t the right call to do one lap in that session. We did two laps on the first set (of tires) and we were trying to do it in just one lap in the second session and the guys called me in. And, of course, we should have done two laps because the guys went faster behind me,” Power explained. “It’s really no one’s fault because I was pushing to just do it in one lap, as well. It just wasn’t a good lap. It’s unfortunate. We will look ahead to the race and see what we can do from seventh.”

O’Ward, meanwhile, created a very different kind of surprise.

The 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, making his IndyCar debut with Harding Racing, impressed everyone on Friday by going third quickest in Practice 2. And he continued to shine during qualifying, advancing not only out of Round 1 but then making the Fast Six, all in his very first start.

An elated O’Ward, who will start fifth, was beside himself to be alongside some of the biggest names in IndyCar in advancing to the Fast Six.

Patricio O’Ward and Harding Racing had a lot to smile about after qualifying fifth. Photo: IndyCar

“When I saw that I moved into the Firestone Fast Six, I saw (Josef) Newgarden, (Scott) Dixon, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, (Marco) Andretti, (Alexander) Rossi – such big names – you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years, since I was a kid. Scott has been racing for a long time. I think even before I started my open-wheel career, Josef was already in INDYCAR. Basically, everybody here was already in INDYCAR. It’s just something unique,” O’Ward expressed.

O’Ward, who also gave Harding Racing its first appearance in the Firestone Fast Six, added that, while he definitely took everyone by surprise with his performance, he coached himself into believing it was possible.

“It’s something that you have to start believing that you can be like them, that you can beat them, that you can give them a run for their money. It’s a new feeling. I really don’t know what to think about it. I couldn’t be more stoked for the team. I’m really happy I got to give them their first Firestone Fast Six.”

Power will start seventh for Sunday’s race, while O’Ward will take the green flag from fifth.

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.