04/09/2017

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New Zealand driver Scott Dixon is on the pace in the 2017 IndyCar series

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New Zealand driver Scott Dixon has boosted his chances of winning a fifth IndyCar championship title with a strong performance in the season's penultimate race in New York.

Dixon finished second in the grand prix at Watkins Glen on Monday (NZ time). It left him second on the overall leaderboard ahead of the final race of the season. Dixon is now just three points behind American Josef Newgarden heading into the title decider in California in a fortnight that offers double points.

Newgarden, who had a 31-point advantage over Dixon going into New York, limped home in 18th place after a disaster two thirds into the race when he crashed into a wall while exiting pit lane.

American Alexander Rossi made the most of his pole position at Watkins Glenn to hold off Dixon and take the chequered flag.

Dixon again showed his liking for the Watkins Glen circuit where he has won four times in eight starts and was defending the title he won there last year.

Dixon has made a habit of late charges for his IndyCar titles that have come in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015. This year looks no different as he heads to the season-finale at Grand Prix of Sonoma in California on September 18. But it will be a huge challenge with seven drivers still mathematically alive in the title hunt.

Frustratingly a fuel filling problem may have cost Dixon the latest race but he was delighted to end up in the points and making solid ground on the table.

"Definitely a good move in the points. I'm kind of shocked we ended up where we did," Dixon said.

"I locked up coming in on the first stop on the wet (tires) and it wouldn't downshift, so almost stalled the car, got into the pits and we couldn't fuel it. And then we had a fumble later – we lost another four or five spots – so we had to pass a lot of cars today. … Nice recovery by the team, ended up second."

Rossi's New York triumph made him the 10th winner in a highly competitive season.

Rossi overcame a malfunctioning fuel probe on his first pit stop that forced him to make an earlier second stop than scheduled. From there, the 25-year-old Californian laid down laps at nearly qualifying pace, regaining the lead on lap 29 and building an advantage of more than 12 seconds though a charging Dixon cut that to less than a second at the end.

Newgarden's disaster couldn't have been scripted. He was right in the mix when he pitted on lap 45 of 60.

Newgarden locked his brakes avoiding his stalled team mate Will Power and slid into the guardrail separating the pit exit from the track. Sebastien Bourdais, also leaving the pits, had nowhere to go and hit Newgarden from behind. Newgarden continued but sustained front wing and right rear tire ramp damage. The 26-year-old Tennessean eventually finished two laps off the pace with his title hopes now under enormous threat.

"I felt like we were in a good position until that final pit stop," Newgarden said.

"No excuse for it. It was my fault. I saw Will leave right in front of us and I just locked it up and slid over into the wall. Then (Bourdais) got into the back of me.

"It's unfortunate, but there's nothing I can do about it. We'll go to Sonoma in a couple of weeks and race for it."

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third, followed by Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Will Power.

2017 IndyCar championship (Top 10 points with one race to go):
1 Josef Newgarden 560
2 Scott Dixon 557
3 Helio Castroneves 538
4 Simon Pagenaud 526
5 Will Power 492
6 Alexander Rossi 476
7 Graham Rahal 466
8 Takuma Sato 421
9 Tony Kanaan 375
10 Ryan Hunter-Reay 373

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