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Scott Dixon captures Mid-Ohio pole

8/6/2011

LEXINGTON, Ohio -- This hasn't been a vintage year for Scott Dixon. But that could change at a place he's had success before.

Dixon, who has won the IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio each odd calendar year it has been held, had the fastest qualifying time Saturday to take the pole for Sunday's event on the road course.

"I thought we were going to have a good battle for the pole," No. 2 qualifier Ryan Briscoe said. "But, man, Dixon just blew us away there at the end. He certainly laid one down."

The winner at Mid-Ohio in 2007 and 2009, Dixon posted a 1:08.0776 lap time to easily outclass the field of 27 cars. It figured that he'd be at his best at one of his favorite layouts.

Even though he's a solid third in the drivers' standings behind leader Dario Franchitti and second-placed Will Power, in many ways this has been a luckless season for the 31-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand. He's been a runner-up four times -- and has finished out of the top 10 another four times because of mishaps on the track that weren't his fault.

Asked if this was the start of his late-season charge, he laughed and said, "It would have to be a hell of a charge. We're a long ways back."

It's been a bittersweet season for Dixon.

"We've done a great job to put ourselves in the right positions, especially on the road courses," he continued. "We've improved our qualifying a lot from last year. So, you know, it's been good in many ways. But, obviously, the races and the points just really haven't been there for us."

Behind Briscoe will be defending Mid-Ohio champ Franchitti, followed by Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and local favorite Graham Rahal.

During qualifying, Justin Wilson broke a vertebra in his back when he spun off the course and hit a bump between Turns 1 and 2 in a single-car accident. He was awake and alert but being held overnight at the hospital. He'll be transported to Indianapolis on Sunday for further evaluation. Simon Pagenaud took over for Wilson and qualified the car at No. 22.

Franchitti, a strident spokesman for track safety, said the area of the track where Wilson was injured was pinpointed as a worrisome area during testing a week earlier.

"It's been a problem there for a long time," he said. He said the track's new owners intended to address the problem but had not had an opportunity yet.

Dixon credited his car's balance for helping him out on the tight turns and elevations on the course, set in rolling farmland midway between Cleveland and Columbus.

"Our car had maybe just had a little better balance," Dixon said. "It seemed to be able, especially on hot tires, to get up to speed pretty quick. I don't know why. Obviously, we can't see what the other cars are dealing with. But from my car, the split times at Turns 1 and 11 indicated we were gaining a little bit on some of the others."

Having won half of the previous IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio, Dixon discounted the advantage of being on the pole. The prevailing opinion is that good qualifying runs mean a good finish because it's so difficult to pass on the 2.4-mile track.

"It will only take like a lap, and then it's going to be mixed up again," said Dixon, a two-time IndyCar series champion who lives in Indianapolis, where he won the 500 in 2008. "You might find yourself in the middle of the pack when the pit sequence opens up. We'll have to see how it goes. It's obviously a moving target all the time."

He also will have history working against him. The pole-sitter has never won an IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio in the track's four years on the circuit.

Briscoe's qualifying time was closer to fifth-place Hunter-Reay than to Dixon. But that didn't detract from how he felt about the course.

"It's a beautiful race circuit here, one of those few pure race track circuits that we go to on the calendar," he said. "It's a permanent track that has a lot of history. It's a fun track to drive. You can be very aggressive, push the car to its limits. It's satisfying when you get a good lap out of it. It's good to be on the front row again."

Franchitti said his team benefited from visiting the track just over a week earlier.

"The test was definitely helpful for us. When it's so restrictive now anytime you can get on the track it is helpful," he said. "If I had to have put a lap together I could have been second, but I was overdriving a bit, so I didn't get it together. I didn't do a perfect job but third is not bad. We'll have a go at it tomorrow."

Power comes into Mid-Ohio 38 points behind Franchitti in the standings. A year ago, he qualified on the pole at the track and clinched the series' road-course championship -- despite losing a late duel with Franchitti to the checkered flag.

"My last lap was good -- it could have been good enough for second," he said of qualifying. "I made a mistake in the last turn and lost a couple tenths (of a second). Still, I was quite a ways off Scott. He seemed to have a chunk on the field. It's going to be tough to beat him tomorrow."