By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun
7:21 PM EDT, August 6, 2011
Lexington, Ohio — Scott Dixon has not started from the pole for an IZOD IndyCar race in nearly two years, but that's where he'll be Sunday after turning the fastest lap in qualifying for the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
"I thought we'd have a good battle among the six of us [for the pole]," said Penske driver Brian Briscoe, who will start on the outside of the front row. "But Dixon just blew us all away."
In IndyCar racing, the pole is determined by a series of three 15-minute qualifying sessions that eventually reduce the field to the fastest sixth. Those six go out for a final 10-minute session to establish the pole winner and the other top 5 starting spots.
Dixon completed the fastest lap on the 2.3 mile course in 1:08.08 at 119.405 mph.
Briscoe ran 118.954 mph, followed by series points leader Dario Franchitti (118.839), Will Power (118.805), Ryan Hunter-Reay (118.531) and Graham Rahal (118.250).
All but Dixon complained about the slickness of the track and the dirt on its surface.
"I think everybody has been struggling a little bit for grip," Franchitti said. "They still haven't cleaned the track since Thursday last week. There's dirt everywhere. It's like a motorcross track. If I would have put a lap together, I could have been second. … In those conditions, when I didn't do a perfect job, I think third is not bad. I'll have a go at them tomorrow."
Dixon, a New Zealand native and two-time series champion, emerged from his car red-faced and happy, looking as if he'd been the one running laps instead of his Chip Ganassi Honda.
"We all thought it was going to rain, so everyone was pushing as hard as possible early on in the session," said Dixon, who was in Baltimore on Tuesday touring the course for next month's Baltimore Grand Prix. "It was a hell of a workout. … I am a little red right now. But it's been a pretty smooth weekend, so far. It's been a long time for me to be on a poll, and tomorrow is another day. But it's nice to be back on a pole."
Dixon's last pole came Sept. 18, 2009 in Japan.
Asked why he was able to handle the surface here so well while everyone else struggled, Dixon initially was at a loss.
But then he started to think of reasons.
"We had a bit of balance on hot tires and got to speed pretty quick," he said. "And this track has a better flow than some others. There aren't a mess of breaking areas, and it's a little easier to judge racing distances, even though it is really slippery out there."
Despite not being on the pole for 23 months, Dixon has not had a bad season.He's currently third in points, 103 behind Franchitti. He has had seven top-5 finishes and seven top-10s.
Rookie Charlie Kimbell, who also drives for Ganassi and had his best qualifying run of the season in 10th, said he wasn't a bit surprised by his teammate's success Saturday.
"I could have predicted he'd win the pole," Kimbell said. "He just had that super comfortable look when we tested here. And I picked his brain."
All of the Ganassi drivers must have done the same, because each of the four of them qualified in the top 10.
NOTES: Earlier in the day, IndyCar driver Justin Wilson was involved in a single-car crash between turns 1 and 2. He was taken to Mansfield MedCentral hospital where he was found to have an anterior compression fracture of the fifth thoracic vertebra. He was kept overnight and is to be transported to Indianapolis Sunday to meet with Dr. Terry Trammell, IndyCar's medical consultant. … Klaus Graf was declared the winner of the Mid-Ohio sports Car Challenge. The challenge is a timed race scheduled for 2 hours and 45 minutes. The race was red flagged due to rain on lap 96 with 10 minutes left. Chris Dyson finished second.
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