Scott Dixon the master at Mid-Ohio
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- It was just another Sunday drive at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Scott Dixon.
For the fourth time in six years, Dixon won the Mid-Ohio round of the Izod IndyCar Series championship. This year, he did it without the benefit of a full-course caution, as INDYCAR has completed two consecutive caution-free races for the first time in 25 years.
Given the circumstances, Dixon's tenacious drive to a 3.462-second victory over Will Power was arguably more impressive than his 2009 Mid-Ohio win, when the margin of victory was nearly 30 seconds.
After berating himself for qualifying only fourth fastest, Dixon held that position through the first 27 laps in his Target Ganassi Racing DW12-Honda. He latched onto Power's gearbox as the duo stretched their fuel a lap longer than pursuers Dario Franchitti, Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais.
Dixon's crew almost got him out ahead of Power during the first round of stops, and they did accomplish the task when the lead pair again pitted together on Lap 57 of 85.
The Mid-Ohio pit lane is the tightest of all IndyCar venues, and Power and Dixon were located in adjacent pits. The key is that Dixon had a clear entry into his pit, whereas Power had to sharply swerve around Dixon's tires and crew to enter his box.
On both stops, Dixon's car was stopped and his crew was in action before Power had halted, despite the fact Power led into the pits each time.
"I knew when Dixon pitted on the same lap behind us, it was going to be tough because I had to get around his guys to get in my box," said Power, who started from pole position in his Verizon Team Penske DW12-Chevrolet. "That really slows up my entryway. He has a clean in. And my fuel guy has to kind of stand back as my front wing swings around. All that combination made for a slower start, and that's where he got us.
"And then obviously it's so difficult to pass around this joint."
Once in the lead, Dixon took off like it was 2009 all over again, building a three-second lead within a lap. He maintained that comfortable cushion all the way to the checkered flag for his 29th Indy car race win, tying him with Rick Mears on the all-time list.
"My car was fantastic on the out lap -- it was like the tires were already hot," Dixon said. "I looked in the mirror, couldn't see anybody. I thought I was doing something wrong. I'm like: 'Has it gone yellow?' I asked the team: 'Are we saving enough fuel?' They're like 'Yeah, yeah, you're fine.'
"So all in all, it was a perfect day," he added. "I was waiting for something to go wrong. I saw 10 [laps] to go and I thought, 'What's going to go wrong now?'"
Dixon had reason to be worried, because misfortune has been an integral part of his 2012 program. He's already blazed through his season allotment of five Honda engines, and was let down by in-race failures at Long Beach and Toronto.
A crash while running second after dominating most of the race at Texas Motor Speedway didn't help Dixon's championship chances, either. But with three races remaining, he's within 28 points of new championship leader Power.
Incoming points leaders Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves had forgettable weekends at Mid-Ohio. Hunter-Reay knew he had engine problems almost from the start, and his Chevrolet finally let go with six laps to go.
"We were positioned pretty well just past halfway," Hunter-Reay said. "I think we could have finished third with the fuel strategy we were on. Then, the engine just started losing power and it just gradually got worse the longer we tried to run. It finally just gave up there at the end. It died a slow death.
I think we could have finished third with the fuel strategy we were on. Then, the engine just started losing power and it just gradually got worse the longer we tried to run. It finally just gave up there at the end. It died a slow death.” -- Ryan Hunter-Reay
"It's disappointing to start the day with a 23-point lead and leave in second place, but we'll get over this quick," Hunter-Reay continued. "There's a lot of racing still to go, and the only thing we can do is dig deep and move on."
Castroneves didn't fare much better. He suffered an injured wrist in the Saturday morning practice session, took a 10-position grid penalty for an unapproved engine change, and finished 16th.
Hunter-Reay is now five points behind Power; Castroneves is 26 back and Dixon is 28 back.
But considering he arrived at Mid-Ohio 61 points out of the championship lead, Dixon definitely did what he needed to do to put himself into position to claim a third series crown.
And Power, the preseason championship favorite in the eyes of many, quietly retook the points lead.
"Scott's really tough to beat around here and he got us again, but I'm really happy to score the points we did," Power said. "That was everything we had. We couldn't have done anything better, I don't think. It's insane how close everything is and how many good drivers there are, and people just don't make mistakes now. And that's why there's no yellows.
"It's simple for us," he added. "We just gotta do the best with the things that we can control. Obviously there are a lot of other factors in racing. But nothing you can do about that. It's not worth worrying about."
On a day when Hunter-Reay suffered engine problems, Dixon could relate. But he wasn't going to shed a tear for his rival.
"I'm not going to lie I wasn't sorry to see it," Dixon said. "That's how the points chase is at the moment. And we've had some [unlucky] days, too, so it's nice to share those around a bit.
"But we'll see. [Ryan's] going to be strong. He's right there in the thick of it. There's four guys within 28 points, and that's crazy at this time of year.
"It's exciting for the fans."