Scott Dixon took his record fourth win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, the 12th of 15 races in the IZOD IndyCar Series season. The win is his 29th of his open-wheel career, equaling him with Rick Mears for tenth all-time.
Dixon was able to accomplish great fuel conservation mode on track, and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew ultimately made the winning move. With 28 laps remaining, Dixon and leader Will Power both pitted. Dixon had a cleaner entry into his pit stall than did Power, who was closer to pit exit, and thus allowed his team to get his fuel rig attached first. Dixon had an earlier release and beat Power out of the pits.
From there, it was smooth sailing for the New Zealander as the race went caution-free for the second straight race. The Edmonton/Mid-Ohio back-to-back yellow-free races are the first in IndyCar since the last two races of the 1987 season at Laguna Seca and Tamiami Park in Miami.
“I thought we were in a hole after qualifying,” said Dixon, who started only fourth. “We couldn't get the front to grip up. But it's down to a huge credit for the team. The crew did it today. It puts us back in the hunt. Coming in with an open pit helped, as (Simon) Pagenaud had already stopped. At 28 points out, we're back.”
Power, understandably miffed at a runner-up finish after dominating the earlier two stints, still regained the championship points lead from Ryan Hunter-Reay.
“It's such tight pit boxes here, and we had a tight in,” the polesitter explained. “It's hard for the fueler to get in clean. But it's still a very good points day and we're back on the podium. He's always tough to beat here. We really wanted to win, but keep chipping away.”
Pagenaud, who had pitted a lap earlier than the two leaders, recorded his third podium finish of the season in third place. All three have come at tracks where Pagenaud had prior starts in the American Le Mans Series (Long Beach, Detroit).
“The team has done such a great job – I know everybody says the same, but I'm really happy with the team,” he said. “The engineers got it spot on today. Finishing third is a nice thing. We have two more steps to climb.”
Sebastien Bourdais, Pagenaud's countryman and James Hinchcliffe rounded out the top five. It's Bourdais' best finish of the year for the TrueCar Dragon Racing effort with Hinch back in the top 10 for the first time since a podium at Milwaukee in June in the GoDaddy Andretti Autosport entry.
Tony Kanaan finished sixth in another “ironman-esque” performance, the KV Racing Technology driver climbing from 18th on the grid thanks to a combination of passing and a three-stop strategy. Kanaan, who'd been under the weather all week, was fairly worn out after the race at the physically demanding track.
“I gave everything I could,” he exhaled. “I have to thank them, as they did a great job on the strategy. I couldn't get up. That shows the competitiveness of this car. The crowd was extremely happy; no yellows made it the toughest, most physical race of the year.”
Ryan Briscoe made a last lap pass of Marco Andretti for seventh, with Andretti ending his race in the top 10 for only the second time in 2012. JR Hildebrand, like Hinchcliffe and Kanaan on a three-stop strategy, was ninth ahead of Alex Tagliani, who rebounded to 10th from a 10-spot grid penalty and started 14th.
“Ganassi 2” teammates Graham Rahal (11th from 20th) and Giorgio Pantano (14th from 24th) finished much stronger than they started, while Josef Newgarden (12th) and James Jakes (19th) didn't get the results they may have merited after running three-stop strategies but being in the top-10 for a bulk of the day.
While there wasn't perhaps constant, edge-of-your-seat type drama in the lead pack of five or six cars, there was still a healthy amount of passing throughout the race, and a bevy of it by normal Mid-Ohio standards. Some of Kanaan's moves were stellar and Giorgio Pantano also put in a couple good ones. The Italian finished 14th from 24th on the grid substituting for Charlie Kimball, and in a very good effort, turned in the second fastest race lap only behind Oriol Servia.
Crucially, two of the championship contenders and the two most recent winners – Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay – had challenging days. Castroneves started 23rd and finished just 16th, never a factor.
Hunter-Reay, by contrast, had a slow engine failure that went south with more than 30 laps remaining. If there was any small strategic advantage his Andretti Autosport team made, it was retiring the car in P24 to ensure RHR didn't have the race's minimum points (12 instead of 10) and therefore being able to swap out the engine without penalty prior to Sonoma.
“The engine failed in a slow, miserable way,” he surmised. “We didn't need this right now. We could have been third based on the strategy. Maybe 30 percent of our races have ended this way. We can still win this championship, but we can't have days like this. It's time for Penske and Power to have some of these issues. Chevy has done great, but I don't know why we've had a bit of the issues.”
Servia, also, was among those with a fraught day. Early gearbox issues sent the Panther DRR driver to the pits, and while he recovered, he finished 25th and last, seven laps down.
It was another tough day for Dario Franchitti, who despite another front row starting position, wound up just 17th – his day included a passing attempt on Hinchcliffe that went awry where he damaged his front wing on Hinchcliffe's rear wheel guards, with that precipitating a wing change.
A thought should also be spared for Justin Wilson, who was nudged into a spin on lap one by Rubens Barrichello to drop him to last. Wilson climbed 11 spots to 14th in his first stint before an issue at the first pit stop sent him back to a place he couldn't recover. He ended 18th.
With Hunter-Reay and Castroneves each having issues, Power regains the points lead as IndyCar heads to its longest stretch in-between races this season, three weeks until Sonoma. Power leads Hunter-Reay by five, Castroneves by 26 and the suddenly alive again Dixon by 28. At 63 and 68 points back, Hinchcliffe and Pagenaud in fifth and sixth are fringe title contenders but are at least set for a scrap for the final top-five points position.
Results - 85 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Scott Dixon Ganassi Dallara-Honda 1h39m48.5083s
2. Will Power Penske Dallara-Chevy + 3.4619s
3. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt Dallara-Honda + 4.5402s
4. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon Dallara-Chevy + 5.5822s
5. James Hinchcliffe Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 7.5663s
6. Tony Kanaan KV Dallara-Chevy + 12.328s
7. Ryan Briscoe Penske Dallara-Chevy + 27.9601s
8. Marco Andretti Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 28.1691s
9. JR Hildebrand Panther Dallara-Chevy + 29.2325s
10. Alex Tagliani Herta Dallara-Honda + 31.1722s
11. Graham Rahal Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 31.4387s
12. Josef Newgarden Fisher Dallara-Honda + 32.0754s
13. Takuma Sato Rahal Dallara-Honda + 32.4073s
14. Giorgio Pantano Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 33.9166s
15. Rubens Barrichello KV Dallara-Chevy + 35.2863s
16. Helio Castroneves Penske Dallara-Chevy + 35.9205s
17. Dario Franchitti Ganassi Dallara-Honda + 36.9834s
18. Justin Wilson Coyne Dallara-Honda + 42.0974s
19. James Jakes Coyne Dallara-Honda + 46.4304s
20. EJ Viso KV Dallara-Chevy + 46.8068s
21. Mike Conway Foyt Dallara-Honda + 46.9535s
22. Ed Carpenter Carpenter Dallara-Chevy + 1 lap
23. Simona de Silvestro HVM Dallara-Lotus + 2 laps
24. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Dallara-Chevy + 6 laps
25. Oriol Servia Panther/DRR Dallara-Chevy + 7 laps