IndyCar Series championship gets more difficult for Rossi, Dixon

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon are down, but not out, of the battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship. But as the series heads to Portland International Raceway for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland, their quest has become much more difficult.

Both drivers lost points to championship leader Josef Newgarden in last Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. In Rossi’s case, he also lost a position from second place to third. Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske is now second as he trails his Team Penske teammate Newgarden by 38 points with two races remaining.

Pagenaud, Rossi and Dixon all remain in play for the championship because there remain 150 points available over the last two races in addition to bonus points for the pole and leading the most laps.

First place in 15 of the 17 IndyCar Series races is worth 50 points. However, there are two “double-points” races including the Indianapolis 500 and the season-finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on September 22.

The battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship heats up this weekend with the penultimate race of the season at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway in Portland, Ore., as NBC Sports presents coverage of the Grand Prix of Portland this Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Pre-race coverage on NBC begins at 3 p.m. ET.

Rossi finished 13that Gateway and went from 35 points down to 46. Scott Dixon was 52 points behind entering the race but a punctured radiator on the first lap doomed his race. He ran the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda until there was no more water left in his cooling system before bringing the car into the garage for repairs.

He returned to the track to pick up two positions after Will Power crashed on Lap 54 and Spencer Pigot on Lap 133.

Once Dixon completed 136 laps, he could not gain any other positions because of the number of laps left in the race at that time and parked the car. He finished 112 laps behind race winner Takuma Sato.

Dixon is 70 points out and realizes his chance at a title is virtually over, although he remains mathematically alive.

“It’s been a while since we’ve had something silly and small happen like that,” Dixon told NBC as he walked from his pit area Saturday night. “It looked like something hit the radiator and cracked it. It looked like it happened on Lap 1 at the start. It’s pretty frustrating.

“It seemed like our car was consistent, though. We started to catch Simon Pagenaud. But the team didn’t tell me until about 60 laps in before they told me about the radiator.

“This could be pretty bad, but what can you do? You can’t do anything about it. We’ve had a pretty good run of recent, but it may have just ended.”

The punctured radiator ended a spectacular streak for Dixon, who beginning with Toronto on July 14 through Pocono on August 18 had four-straight races where he finished second or better. He won the July 28 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

“I feel bad for the whole team,” Dixon said. “All we can do is go for wins, here. We’ve been saying that all along. We’ll put our head down. Had we been able to show the potential of our car, we might have been able to go for a win tonight.”

As for Rossi, his 13th-place finish came when the team had to switch from a fuel conservation strategy, to making a pit stop that would ensure they would make it to the finish in the final portion of the race dropped Rossi from contender to out of the top 10.

By finishing 13th, combined with Newgarden’s seventh, Rossi lost 10 more points in the championship battle with just two races remaining.

“We had a car and drove it up to P3 on pace and that is just the way it works,” Rossi said on pit lane after the race. “It’s the way the yellows fall sometimes. The whole 27 NAPA Andretti Honda team put a fast car together and we were able to get from 11thto third and could run the same pace at Josef, if not Josef.

“It’s unfortunate. The series is difficult. We have two more races to go and we’ll try to get them in Portland.”

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo

In the moments leading up to the start of Saturday night’s race, Rossi’s team discovered something was amiss with his No. 27 Honda. A pre-race data check determined the gear stack had an issue.

“If we had gone into the race like that, it wouldn’t have been good, for sure,” Andretti Autosport CEO Rob Edwards said. “But our guys know what they are doing.”

The team hurriedly went to work while the car was on the grid. The gear stack was removed and replaced in just seven minutes.

It all added up to the high drama of the NTT IndyCar Series points race coming down to a dramatic conclusion.

Both drivers admit to being down; but not out.

“This three-week stretch hasn’t started how we would have hoped, but we now have nothing holding us back to collect all the points we can,” Rossi said. “Our mindset has changed a bit from being conservative on our strategy to putting it all out there. We have to get another win in order to head into the season finale with a fighting chance for the Astor Cup. We were very strong last year at Portland and could have potentially won, but an untimely yellow caught us out. We tested the track earlier this month and were fast and able to get some good data under us, so we’re staying optimistic and hoping to come out of Portland with a tighter battle for the NAPA team.”

Although a sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship likely won’t happen for Dixon, he is excited about the prospects for the series after last year’s successful return to Portland International Raceway.

“Overall, I think INDYCAR had a big return last year to the Portland market,” Dixon said. “The race was unpredictable and definitely one to remember in our championship race last year with the PNC Bank team. I love the layout and the fans have shown that they will come out in big numbers. If you looked at the paddock last year it was totally packed.

“I hope we can build on that momentum to continue to race there for many years to come.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).