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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Column: Contrasting Michael Schumacher’s and Robert Wickens’ situations

(Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters)
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As much of the world looks forward to Christmas and New Years Day in the next few weeks, a dark anniversary is also on the near horizon.

It’s hard to believe that December 29 will mark five years since seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was critically injured in a skiing accident, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Schumacher and his family were on holiday in the French Alps when he fell and struck his head on a boulder. The impact was so severe that it cracked the helmet he was wearing straight through.

One can only imagine the damage the impact did to Schumacher’s skull and brain.

While chronologically the accident occurred a half-decade ago, for many of “Schu’s” most ardent fans, it seems like it was just yesterday when the earth-shattering news broke.

In the following days and weeks after his accident, Schumacher was placed in a medically induced coma, as well as had at least two surgeries on his brain.

Since then the world has waited for news about the racing legend’s condition, only to receive very little in terms of updates over the subsequent five years.

That’s the way his family wants it, having repeatedly requested privacy when it comes to details about Michael’s condition. That request for privacy should be respected.

Schumacher’s wife, Corrina, issued a rare statement late last month that didn’t really say much about her husband’s condition or recovery, but she did thank fans and well-wishers for their continued prayers and concern about her husband, adding, “We all know Michael is a fighter and will not give up.”

In the meantime, Schumacher’s fans have been able to stay somewhat close to his legacy by watching as his 19-year-old son, Mick, has showed significant achievement in his own budding racing career.

So much so that rumors have already popped up that the younger Schu may soon follow in his father’s F1 footsteps, perhaps as early as 2020.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

What makes the Schumacher situation so difficult for many to still understand is how, while enjoying a simple skiing excursion with his family, he suffered a life-changing accident while having survived some wicked crashes during his racing career that barely affected him.

We still don’t know if Schumacher can walk, talk, is conscious and lucid or not – and many of his fans have already accepted that we may never, ever know any of those details. But if that’s the way he and/or his family want it, again, then we need to respect their wishes.

At the same time, there’s another race car driver who suffered a horrendous injury at Pocono Raceway this past August, namely IndyCar driver Robert Wickens.

Wickens suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that has left him a paraplegic – although there remains a great deal of hope that he will one day walk again.

While both suffered serious injuries, there’s a significant contrast between Schumacher and Wickens. The former (or his family) is keeping all details about his condition private, while the latter keeps his fans and supporters regularly updated on social media on how he’s doing.

That includes Wickens posting a number of videos, including some rather humorous ones where he has a mischievous look in his eyes or a good-natured smirk on his face — like bringing in a Christmas tree to his rehab facility, or “racing” teammate James Hinchcliffe in wheelchairs in a Days of Thunder homage of sorts.

Watching each new Wickens video or reading his most recent online messages, it’s very clear that expressing himself and reaching out to the world is indeed good therapy and medicine of sorts for the Canadian driver.

He needs those social media posts and videos as much as we need them from him.

And it also helps fans better understand where Wickens is at in his recovery and rehab.

If Schumacher or his family wish to still remain private about his condition, we must respect that. But perhaps they could see the good will and good tidings that Wickens’ videos and posts offer. They’re as good for Wickens’ own well-being as they are for his fans — and they could be equally as good for Schumacher, his family and his fans.

Follow @JerryBonkowski