Scott Dixon might have been hoping for an even better time of it in Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but after qualifying in fifth place and then surviving the early treacherous conditions at a soaked Barber Motorsports Park, the Ganassi driver insisted that he was happy just to have got on the podium.
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"It was definitely an interesting race with the weather mixed in there," said Dixon afterwards. "Hopefully we put on a good show for everybody. We were trying!
"The race was really fun. In the wet conditions, there was a little puddling and standing water which made it pretty tough ... especially in the fast sections around the back," he continued. "It was one of those races where at the start you kept it clean and stayed out of trouble."
Dixon spent most of the early part of the race scrapping with the three Penske cars, after being overtaken at the start by Helio Castroneves who jumped from sixth to fourth at the green flag.
"Helio jumped the start and passed a couple of cars ... which seems to be typical of him [and] he doesn't seem to get a penalty for it," said Dixon. "I think Helio got a bit greedy on the restart and jumped us which was frustrating because he backed us up some."
While Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe quickly pulled out huge leads at the front, the rest of the field including Dixon did indeed find themselves stacked up behind Castroneves. The Brazilian eventually removed himself from contention with an error in the pit lane, leaving Dixon with a new problem on is hands - Castroneves' team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, who was revelling in the wet conditions and quickly cutting a path through the field in the early phase of the race.
"It was fun to race with Montoya, he was making some pretty good turns onto the frontstraight," said Dixon. But Montoya subsequently spun out into the gravel at turn 11 at a subsequent restart on lap 26, with the Penske man blaming Dixon's early braking for catching him out.
"We were going through the esses, and I was right behind the #9 car. He had a big moment, and I lifted then ended up having a bigger moment myself," explained Montoya. "He lifted more than I expected and I had to lift a lot more and it started tail slapping."
Dixon subsequently also managed to get the better of the third Penske driver, Will Power, who had fallen back after an early error cost him the lead. A fast final pit stop by the Ganassi crew put Dixon back out on track just ahead of Power, and that was enough to secure third place and a spot on the podium for the Kiwi, who insisted that he couldn't have hoped for better in the circumstances.
"We just didn't have enough for Marco. He did a hell of a job, so congrats to Andretti for a 1-2 finish," he said, revealing that it had been tyre wear - especially at the front - that had been the #9's Achilles Heel and stopped him from any chance of challenging the Andretti Autosport pair at the front.
"Our biggest trouble today was burning up the front tyres, whether it was the wet tyres or the Firestone reds. We seemed to lose rotation sort of after about six or eight laps," he said. "We tried to pull as much as could out of it and kinda burnt the front tyres off the thing trying to push so hard."
The other main frustration for Dixon was the way the race had to be capped at one hour and 40 minutes because of the delayed start caused by the need to wait out a band of thunderstorms.
"I think it's kind of annoying," he admitted. "The race should be the full distance. To have to shorten these races for TV, you know, I understand the difficult predicament that everybody is in, but these are championship races. They all pay the same amount of points. You decide to take 30 laps off them.
"It changes strategy a lot and you're constantly chasing that window," he added. "Then ultimately you finish on a caution, too, which is also a bit of a bummer for the fans."
For the rest of the four-car Ganassi squad, Sunday's race had been a case of overcoming the setback of a desperately poor qualifying session the day before. In the end, Tony Kanaan fought back to ninth after starting the race from last place, putting him immediately ahead of team mates Charlie Kimball and Ryan Briscoe in tenth and 11th respectively.
"It was a good day for us," said Kanaan. "We passed half of the field on a track that people say you can't pass on. We'll take a top-ten finish, especially after the weekend we had and qualifying in the back.
Kimball was just relieved to be in the race at all after wrecking his primary race car by spinning off in the Sunday warm-up session. "After crashing this morning, everyone from all three teams came together and just really put their heads down with no complaints and started working," he said.
"It was a really upside-down race with it starting wet and ending dry, but we had really good pace and clean air," he added. "We just did what we could do and made the most of where we were at."
"It was a fun race starting in the rain and then going to slick tires, but it was a bit challenging with the fuel conditions," contributed Briscoe. " We were able to stay out of trouble and really keep our nose clean allowing us to move up a ton of positions.
"The whole NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing team definitely wants to be higher than eleventh, but considering where we started today I was really happy with the result."
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