Dixon Dominates, Franchitti Stretches Points Lead

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 7 2011

Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. They finished first and second at Mid-Ohio on Sunday.

Steam Corners, Ohio – But for a brief scoring technicality that put teammate Dario Franchitti in front and a rookie’s out-of-kilter pit strategy, pole winner Scott Dixon dominated the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The New Zealander claimed his third victory at the 2.4-mile circuit since 2007 and championship points leader Franchitti finished second.

The push by Penkse Racing and Will Power, who finished 14th, to catch Franchitti in the points derby went awry on the second round of pit stops. Power plus teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves all tried to stretch their stints on lighter tanks, but got caught out by the day’s second caution. Since all the other front runners had pitted before the yellow, the Penske trio fell to midfield for the remainder of the race.

It was a relatively clean race, but included contact between Power and Franchitti at the start, although no serious damage or penalty occurred. “I was just trying to get in front of him,” said Power, feuding with Franchitti since the latter’s contact at Toronto cost Power a victory and a now decisive number of championship points.

“There was some contact,” continued Power. “I guess it was just like Toronto.”

Franchitti declared that Power “made a mistake,” but chalked it up to normal racing contact. “I think he got into me twice,” he said. “He didn’t spin us and I managed to keep the thing going straight.” The contact may have altered the toe-out alignment on his rear tires, but Franchitti said there was no other problem.

After the pit strategy went awry, Power dropped to 62 points behind Franchitti with six races remaining. He also tried a dash into the pits on the day’s first full-course caution, but failed to make it before the caution came out and the pits were officially closed. He rejoined, but this gamble only cost him two positions lost to Dixon.

When it came time for Dixon to force the issue on a re-start with 24 of 85 laps remaining, Franchitti let his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate draft past on the inside at Turn 4. The Scotsman had taken the lead because he was on pit road when the yellow came out and was scored in the lead before Dixon got past the start-finish. Even though he trailed Dixon’s car as he exited the pits, Franchitti was scored as the leader and put back in front.

“From the time we tested here, Scott’s been on a mission,” said Franchitti. “He deserves to win it.”

Those sentiments didn’t stop Franchitti from trying to get the jump on the final side-by-side re-start. But that left the door open for Dixon to draft in behind his teammate, then outbrake him at Turn 4. “He took off like (he was shot out of) a cannon,” said Dixon, who tucked in behind then pulled out to pass. Under the series rules, Franchitti was not able to block. “He gave me plenty of room,” said Dixon, who joked, “I didn’t wave.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third behind the Ganassi juggernaut for Andretti Autosport. He advanced from his fifth place starting position on pace and a quick first pit stop.

KV Racing Technology had a strong showing. Takuma Sato scored a career-high fourth place finish, followed by teammate Tony Kanaan in fifth place.

Two hard luck drivers were rookie James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing and the Ganassi team’s Graham Rahal, racing on his home track during the facility’s 50th anniversary.

After starting seventh, Hinchcliffe was forced off at the crest of Turn 5. He pitted for tires and fuel, then an early yellow for a Sebastian Saavedra incident allowed Hinchcliffe to stay out of the pits on softer Red tires as the majority of the field pitted. He led Dixon, Franchitti and Hunter-Reay for 26 laps before he had to pit due to an earlier previous stop.

“The team told me I had a choice to either try to pass him or save fuel,” said Dixon, who elected the latter.

Hinchcliffe’s team also radioed him to save fuel and stay in front of Dixon and Franchitti. “Great,” said the rookie. “Just keep five championships behind me and save fuel.” When Hinchcliffe predictably came in earlier for his second stop, he suffered from the problem of cold rear Black Firestone tires, which came in slowly – an issue mentioned by all the drivers. He drove off at the Keyhole. “We found out in testing the Black tires took a long time to come in, especially the rears” he said of his mistake. “I guess that’s part of being a rookie.”

Rahal also spun on his out lap after contact with Danica Patrick, who was not close to being a contender on this day, in the Keyhole. On his first pit stop, fifth-placed Rahal had lost 10 positions when balked by other cars on his first pit stop. Following the post-second stop mishap, Rahal’s stranded car brought out the day’s final and decisive yellow flag period.

The two full-course cautions were enough to make it into a fuel mileage race — where the quickest cars tried to save fuel and those trailing like Penske’s drivers tried to save even more fuel to gain track position.

Hunter-Reay suggested mandatory pit windows to remedy the problem of fuel mileage racing. Dixon was in favor of softer Red tires, forcing teams to pit more often in between very fast stints — much like some Formula 1 races. Franchitti said new track owners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree are looking at making some changes to the track to encourage passing.

As it was, Dixon led 50 of the 85 laps with nary a challenge and spent 26 of the other 30 circuits saving fuel behind Hinchcliffe. He won by 7.6508 seconds over his teammate and trails the championship leader by 93 points in a distant third place.

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

Results Sunday of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.258 mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

2. (3) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

3. (5) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

4. (9) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

5. (16) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

6. (8) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

7. (19) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

8. (20) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

9. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

10. (21) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

11. (10) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

12. (14) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

13. (18) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

14. (4) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

15. (12) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

16. (2) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

17. (25) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

18. (26) Martin Plowman, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

19. (15) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

20. (7) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

21. (23) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

22. (27) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

23. (24) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 85, Running

24. (6) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 83, Running

25. (13) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 81, Running

26. (17) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 63, Mechanical

27. (22) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 20, Contact

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 105.861 mph

Time of Race: 01:48:46.9509

Margin of victory: 7.6508

Cautions: 2 cautions for 8 laps

Lead changes: 7 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders: Dixon 1 – 23, Patrick 24 – 26, Hinchcliffe 27 – 52, Dixon 53 – 54

Franchitti 55 – 56, Power 57 – 58, Franchitti 59 -60, Dixon 61 – 85

Point Standings: Franchitti 428, Power 366, Dixon 335, Kanaan 283, Servia 268, Andretti 258, Briscoe 253, Rahal 230, Castroneves 224, Hildebrand 222.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 7 2011
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