Scott Dixon wins 2018 IndyCar championship; Hunter-Reay wins last race at Sonoma

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SONOMA, California – Scott Dixon concluded an outstanding season marked by uncanny consistency and a bit of luck when he needed it, capturing his fifth career IndyCar championship in Sunday’s season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma.

While pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay earned the race win — the last IndyCar race to be held at Sonoma Raceway for the foreseeable future — Dixon finished second, outdistancing chief championship challenger Alexander Rossi, who finished seventh, running out of fuel coming to the finish line.

Dixon came into the race with a 29-point lead over Rossi, and when the checkered flag fell, he captured the championship over Rossi relatively easy, by 57 points (678 to 621 points). Will Power finished the season third (582 points), followed by Hunter-Reay (566), 2017 champ Josef Newgarden (560), Simon Pagenaud (492), Sebastien Bourdais (425), Graham Rahal (392), Marco Andretti (392) and James Hinchcliffe (391).

“Man, this is so awesome, I can’t believe it that it’s actually happened,” Dixon said after the race to NBCSN. “I don’t know, you always doubt these situations, that it’s never going to happen.

“I can’t thank everyone enough, my wife Emma, the team, my teammate (Ed Jones), everybody involved. This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of grit, had a lot of things that could have gone wrong today.

“I have to thank the other teams we fought hard with this year, Penske and Andretti, this season. Rossi did a hell of a job all year. He’s been pushing so hard this year. He’s a huge talent and one that is going to win a lot of championships in his career.”

Strategist Mike Hull congratulates Scott Dixon after the latter won the 2018 IndyCar championship.

Dixon becomes only the second driver to capture five Indy car championships and the first to do it in 51 years. The other five-time winner – actually, he went on to win seven titles – is the legendary A.J. Foyt. It’s also the 12th career IndyCar championship for team owner Chip Ganassi.

Rossi gave it everything he could, but he was behind the 8-ball for most of the race, starting with inadvertent contact on Turn 3 of the opening lap, running into the back end of Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti.

The wreck damaged the right front wing of Rossi, as well as caused a flat right tire, forcing him to drive around the entire 12-turn, 2.52-mile track before he was able to pit for service, and he played catch-up from that point on.

“I got a good start and don’t know if he lifted or I misjudged it or whatever, but it is what it is,” Rossi said of his contact with Andretti. “It was going to be a tough day to beat Scott anyways. It’s unfortunate to go out like that.

“It was just two cars going for the same spot. … I wish I could replay that a million more times. At the end of the day, we have to look at 2018 and be pretty happy with it.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing to come away second and the first loser, but we have lots to work on and improve for next year.

“I’m happy about (finishing second in the championship), but I expect a lot out of myself and the people around me. There’s points in the year that I definitely made some mistakes and didn’t have things go our way, so we’ll look to improve upon that and be even better for Year 4 and hopefully come out of the box and lead it the whole way.

“Huge congratulations to Scott. He’s a five-time champion for a reason and it was a pleasure to race him all year, and we’ll try to one-up him in September 2019 (the final race at WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway).”

Rossi also made contact with Jordan King during the first half of the race when they tapped tires, but both drivers were able to continue on.

The rest of the top-5 in the race were Will Power in third, followed by teammate Simon Pagenaud, who won the previous two races at Sonoma, and Marco Andretti.

Hunter-Reay dedicated his win to fellow IndyCar driver Robert Wickens, who was seriously injured in a crash that included Hunter-Reay nearly a month ago at Pocono Raceway. It was also a good birthday present for Hunter-Reay’s wife, Becky.

“Congratulations to Scott Dixon,” Hunter-Reay said. “What can I say? Five-time champ. He’s unreal.”

Sixth through 10th in the race were Sebastien Bourdais, Rossi, 2017 IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden, an impressive IndyCar debut by 2018 Indy Lights champ Patricio O’Ward and Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Ed Jones.

As for other teams, it was a tough day for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Takuma Sato, who won two weeks ago at Portland, saw his hopes of making it two wins in a row go up in smoke as the motor on his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing blew up just 16 laps into the race.

Sato’s teammate, Graham Rahal, brought out a yellow caution flag on Lap 43 when he lost power in his car. His team took the car back to the garage, swapped batteries and returned to the race 15 laps down.

On Lap 50, several drivers were involved in a multi-car spin in the Turn 11 hairpin including James Hinchcliffe and Jordan King. But there was no caution flag thrown as all of the cars involved continued on.

Matheus Leist and Carlos Munoz were both penalized for failure to avoid contact.

We’ll be back with more shortly. Please check back soon.

Notes: Tony Kanaan finished 12th in his 300th consecutive start as an Indy car driver (also the 360th overall start of his career). … Team owner Roger Penske captured the 500th win of his tenure as a multi-faceted motorsport team owner, including IndyCar and NASCAR. Driver Brad Keselowski, who gave Penske his first NASCAR Cup championship in 2011, won Sunday’s race at Las Vegas to make it 500 wins for “the Captain.”

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Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”