By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun
8:55 PM EDT, August 7, 2011
LEXINGTON, Ohio —
Picking up speed into the fourth turn when the green flag waved on Lap 61, Scott Dixon planned to hold the line beside his teammate Dario Franchitti and then try to pull ahead out of the turn. But Franchitti got such a good start, Dixon had to change his plan.
"He took off like a bloody cannon," Dixon said. "So then, the only option I had to do was to slip back inside. No one was expecting it. I was lucky he moved back over to the left, which left the inside open. And he couldn't defend. So it was a perfect scenario for me. ... So I was going to try slipping the car in there. He gave me plenty of room and that was that.
"I don't know when I last made a move like that, but it felt nice. It felt fun."
On many levels Dixon has had a great season, climbing to third in the IZOD IndyCar points race despite not having won a race this season. But the frustration was growing. He felt his Chip Ganassi Honda had been running well, that the team had been working hard. But there was little to show for it until Sunday evening, when his perfectly orchestrated pass put him out front and on the road to victory in the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
It was his first victory since last October at Homestead, Fla., and he won by 7.6508 seconds at an average speed of 105.861 mph on the 2.3 mile course. Franchitti held off Ryan Hunter-Reay for second. Takuma Sato finished fourth followed by Tony Kanaan. Charlie Kimball came home 11th, the highest finishing rookie.
Going into that fourth turn, Franchitti was in an indefensible position on two fronts. Jim Hull, the managing director for Dixon and Franchitti's Ganassi-owned cars has made it clear all season that when push comes to shove, the bottom line is, "Just don't hit each other." And during the drivers' meeting Sunday morning, IndyCar officials reminded drivers, "No defending or moving your car in response to the actions of a following car. And ... you need to make sure you stay on the outside half of the entry [to a corner] if you are under attack. You can only be on the inside half at entry if you are attempting to pass another car."
Franchitti held his line.
"Scott has been on fire ever since we tested here," Franchitti said of his teammate. "He did a great job on the restart as he did every lap this weekend. He was beside me before I could even get my foot on the brake. At that point, I really was just trying to protect my position. Ryan was behind me, keeping me honest, and Scott was pulling away. I wasn't going to catch Scott. I tried, but he kept increasing his lead. He was driving the thing sideways. I think probably that's as sideways as I've seen IndyCars driven in the dry. I wanted to win badly, but Scott deserved to win."
Will Power, who is second in the points race, finished 14th.
"Today was tough," said Power, who is now 62 points behind Franchitti. "Basically, we suffered for doing a great job of driving a smart race."
Power's Team Penske car was fast and it was also fuel efficient. But that turned out to be the problem. While the other leaders pitted on laps 53 through 57, Power stayed out and was leading on lap 58. The team strategy was to go a lap or two longer to put them in a stronger position to challenge for the race lead in the closing laps. But a full course yellow came out on that lap when Graham Rahal and Danica Patrick tangled, sending Rahal into a spin and stall on the race track.
Power and Ryan Briscoe, who was also waiting to pit, were caught by the yellow and forced to the back of the lead lap when they pitted on lap 59.
"I think Will was unlucky today," Franchitti said. "I said to somebody else, I've done a lot of these races, and I've probably still lost more races from bad luck than I've won from good luck. These things have a habit of balancing out over the years."
It was Dixon's 26th career win, tying him with Rodger Ward for 12th on the all-time Indy car win list. It was also his third win at Mid-Ohio, all in odd numbered years. When he was reminded of that, he grinned.
"I'd prefer to win every year," he said.
Notes: Dixon was the sixth different race winner of the season. ... Sato's fourth-place finish was a career best. ... Power got into the back of Franchitti twice on the first lap, turning him sideways. Power said, "I was just racing." Franchitti said the field was bunched tightly and didn't take offense. "That's what happens when you're in those positions when you're so close together."
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