Dixon Off To Fast Start In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 4 2010

Scott Dixon got off to fast start at Texas on Friday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fort Worth, Texas – Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe – two of the three drivers who participated in an IZOD IndyCar Series test at Texas Motor Speedway last month – belatedly were rewarded for their labor Friday afternoon.

Dixon and Briscoe stood 1-2 atop the speed chart following the opening practice for Saturday night’s Firestone 550k. Dixon, of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, toured the 1.5-mile TMS quadoval in 24.2066-seconds and 216.387 mph while Briscoe, of Team Penske, posted a lap in 24.2390-seconds and 216.098 mph.

The rivals were the only drivers among 26 posting laps to crack the 216 mph barrier during the one-hour session – the lone practice before pole qualifications later this afternoon.

Briscoe finished second to Penske teammate Helio Castroneves here last June, with Dixon third in a race that was panned by a number of drivers as a single-file parade. A revised aerodynamic package introduced by the Indy Racing League last August, and implementation of Honda’s version of the push-to-pass option, are expected to dramatically affect the quality of racing Saturday night.

Drivers will have the availability of the Honda push-to-pass system 20 times during the race for a duration of 12 seconds each. There will be a 10-second recovery period between pushes.

“Texas is always a tough circuit because it’s different from any of the other circuits we race on because of the higher (24-degree) banking and the way that we trim the cars out,” said Dixon, who logged 45 laps in the No. 9 Dallara/Honda. “Last year was extremely tough to pass. I think the improvements that they made for Kentucky last year have carried through.

“I definitely think Texas will be totally different this year. It will be much more like what we’re used to. I think the rules change here will help a lot with how the race plays out.”

Team Penske’s Will Power, a two-time winner this season and the championship points-leader, was third-fastest at 215.887 mph. Power, driver of the No. 12 Dallara/Honda, has an 11-point lead over two-time and reigning Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti, who is Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate.

Rounding out the top 10 were E.J. Viso (215.107 mph), Dan Wheldon (215.033 mph), Milka Duno (214.727 mph), Marco Andretti (214.688 mph), Tony Kanaan (214.598 mph), Franchitti (214.512 mph) and Castroneves (214.344 mph).

Andretti, of Andretti Autosport, was the other driver who tested here last month. Danica Patrick, Andretti’s teammate, was 15th after lapping at 213.968 mph.

Briscoe dominated the event last June, leading a race-high 160 of 228 laps. But a quicker final pit stop allowed Castroneves to take a lead on Lap 176 that he did not relinquish. Castroneves’ margin of victory over Briscoe was 0.3904-seconds in a race that saw seven lead changes among only four drivers.

“I don’t dwell on it,” said Briscoe, who logged 52 laps Friday in the No. 6 Dallara/Honda. “The way it went, I felt like it was my race but we got caught out with two consecutive cautions at the end, which really got rid of all the lapped traffic that was between myself and Helio. But it was still an amazing event for Team Penske. I mean, we walked away with a first and second result and just had a good weekend all in all. Hopefully we can be just as competitive. You’re going to have those days when it goes your way and sometimes they don’t. But it wasn’t that bad at the end of it all.”

Castroneves’ win was the fifth for team-owner Roger Penske at TMS, tying him with John Barnes of Panther Racing. Castroneves, meanwhile, became the third driver to win both of the IndyCar Series’ marquee events _ the Indianapolis 500 and Bombardier Learjet 500k _ in the same season. Castroneves joined Arie Luyendyk (1997) and Dixon (2008) in that elite group.

“Winning Texas for me, it had been something I wanted to do for so long,” said Dixon, who has led a combined 121 laps here in nine starts. “We’d come close but to finally win it in 2008 was fantastic. The last couple of years it’s been definitely a handling track. The configuration we had been running was putting down a lot of downforce and so you’d burn the tires up pretty quick. Last year we didn’t have a handle on that. And it can become a lot of the time a pack race here, so it is a totally different style of driving. You tend not to want to lift here, whereas Indy, you have to.

“My first couple of times here, man, it’s nerve-wracking. It’s a tough race because the car, on low downforce, is so on the edge. So when you’re moving up the bank and between the seams, it definitely upsets the car and can make you hesitant. To get a good car here and make it work really well is pretty gratifying.”

Briscoe agreed that the season’s first night race at TMS presents a unique set of challenges.

“It’s definitely one of the scariest tracks to race at here,” said Briscoe, who has led 172 laps at TMS in three starts. “It’s good when you have a good car. I had a really solid car last year and it gives you a lot of confidence when you can run wherever you want to, and pass cars whether it’s the high side or the low side. That’s what you always want to have.

“But I’ve been her e in the past where you might have understeer and you try to fix it with the weight-jacker and then you come off Turn 2 and the thing is just loose as all hell. Yeah, that’s when it really starts getting tricky when you start trying to fix the balance during a race and you come off the banking so abruptly here that it really makes it difficult to adjust during the race if you haven’t got it right going in.

“And typically, the racing is always so close. It’s night-time, which always makes it feel a little bit faster, and it’s not very smooth around here either.  At the end of a race here, if you’ve been working all night you certainly sleep well.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 4 2010
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