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IndyCar: Dixon blasts clear of the rest in final practice

Scott Dixon had topped the Friday practice times, but on Saturday morning he lit the afterburners and set an unofficial track record ahead of qualifying.
If there was any doubt that Ganassi's Scott Dixon was the man to beat this weekend, he made it blindingly obviously with his pace in the third and final practice ahead of qualifying for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, the 14th round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

See full Saturday practice 3 times from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Dixon improved his overnight speed by almost nine tenths of a second in the 45-minute session, recording a best lap of 1:05.1209s (124.826mph) on his final tour of the 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course before the chequered flag called time.

That is already significantly faster than the existing official track qualifying record of 1:05.347s set by Dixon's former team mate Dario Franchitti in 1999 and equalled by Gil de Ferran the following year. However Dixon's time is not an official new record - he'll have to wait until this afternoon's qualifying session to attempt to do that, and on this sort of performance it's very much on the cards.

Dixon is the defending race winner at Mid-Ohio. Last year he qualified in second place in inclement weather behind pole winner Sebastien Bourdais; the KVSH Racing driver was fastest in yesterday's first practice and second behind Dixon in the afternoon, but on Saturday dropped back and was only fourth fastest.

Closest to matching Dixon's case was CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden, who was still a rather worrying 0.3624s away from the Kiwi's blistering final effort. Newgarden was a couple of hundredths faster than Dixon's fellow Ganassi driver Charlie Kimball.

Saturday's practice seemed to indicate that the Honda contingent were once again starting to lose ground. The highest Honda-powered entry was Ryan Hunter-Reay who succeeded in capturing fifth place ahead of his Andretti Autosport team mate Marco Andretti. However the only other Honda runner in the top ten was AJ Foyt Racing's Jack Hawksworth in ninth

It proved to be a better day for Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya, who after struggling on Friday with alternator issues that left him outside the top ten was able to rebound on Saturday morning with the seventh fastest time of the session putting him just ahead of his Penske team mate and reigning champion Will Power in eighth.

Montoya had a poor outing last time out in Iowa and only equal misfortunes hitting many of his closest rivals in the championship points standings meant that he came out of it with a relatively comfortable 42 points lead with three races remaining in 2015. However, the Colombian can't afford to chance his luck to the same degree again this weekend if he's to keep his hopes of a maiden IndyCar title rolling all the way to the season finale at Sonoma.

"Unfortunately we are coming off a disappointing result in Iowa," Montoya agreed. "But to expect that we would be able to go through the season without a bad race was unreasonable. Now, having said that, our day wasn't nearly as bad as it could've been at Iowa. We only lost 12 points to second place. We know we have our work cut out for us between now and Sonoma, but this Hawk Performance Chevy team has answered every challenge that we've been faced with this year.

"Mid-Ohio is a place where I've won before, so I know what it takes to be successful," he added. "There are guys in the Verizon IndyCar Series that run really well at Mid-Ohio, so we need to bring our 'A game' this weekend."

Dixon himself was pushed down into third place in the standings after issues at Iowa meant that he ended up being leapfrogged for second by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal. that means that the pressure this week is on Dixon as well to once again deliver strongly at a track where he has notched up five wins in the last eight visits.

"It's wide-open," said Dixon. "There aren't just three people. I think there are five possibilities that if any one of them get on a streak they will be hard to stop."

"I've won at all [three remaining] tracks but typically a Penske car is very quick at Sonoma. We won at Pocono in 2013 and Juan won there last year," he pointed out. "Obviously you would like to be leading at this point and having some points in the bag but if I remember in 2013 we came from a bigger deficit than this when we beat Helio."

In total, 19 of the 24 cars taking part in Saturday's final practice session were within a second of Dixon's blistering pace, proving just how close qualifying and indeed Sunday's race should prove to be.

The slowest cars outside that threshold and struggling to find performance at Mid-Ohio this weekend were Bryan Herta Autosport's Gabby Chaves, Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz and the two Dale Coyne Racing cars of Rodolfo Gonzalez and Tristan Vautier - although Gonzalez had improved on his Friday showing and picked himself up off the bottom of the timing screens to set the 21st fastest time on Saturday.

Penske's Simon Pagenaud was unable to set a representative time in the session, running only two laps before a technical issue with the car saw the #22 spend the rest of the morning in the garage where it looked as through the engineering crew were urgently fitting a new Chevrolet power unit into the chassis.

Qualifying gets underway this afternoon at 3.15pm local time (8.15pm BST) and takes the usual format for street and road courses, with the field split into two groups for the first round, with the fastest six in each group progressing to round 2 and then the top six going into the pole shoot-out to decide the starting order for the first three rows of the grid.

The teams will then have a half hour morning warm-up on Sunday morning at 9.45am (2.45pm) ahead of the 90-lap, 203.22-mile race which gets the green flag just after 2pm (7pm) on Sunday evening.

See full Saturday practice 3 times from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Scott Dixon heads towards Turn 12 during practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: Bret Kelley for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon rolls through the Carousel (Turn 12) during practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: Bret Kelley for IndyCar Media)
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to victory at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to pole at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon leads the Indycar field   [pic credit: Indycar media/Bret Kelley]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Simon Penske - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar media/Bret Kelley]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Scott Dixon - Target Chip Ganassi Racing   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/JOE SKIBINSKI]
Josef Newgarden - Ed Carpenter Racing   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Shawn Gritzmacher]
Will Power - Penske  [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Josef Newgarden - Ed Carpenter Racing [credit: Chris Jones]

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