It could have been a lot worse for both men, but neither Helio Castroneves or Scott Dixon felt too pleased with their lot after the penultimate round of the IndyCar Series dealt tough hands in the battle for the championship crown.
Both men took turns to lead what became a two-hour timed race around the picturesque Belle Isle circuit in Detroit, but neither would win after making questionable judgement calls at either end of the race.
Dixon's faux pas
only came when he allowed the Target Chip Ganassi team to determine his strategy, and followed the call to pit under yellow on lap 19 of the event. That move left him struggling to make up either time or places after becoming mired in the pack, allowing Castroneves - and others - to pull out an advantage that would prove crucial later on.
“I don't think it was much of a race, to be honest," the Kiwi sighed post-race, "It was pretty pitiful. The car was clearly quicker than anybody's and we were saving a ton of fuel up front and having a merry old day, but changed pretty quickly.
"We left with a half tank after that caution, but I think I was probably the only person, or maybe a couple of others, [to pit at that point]. It's just a hard situation when you're in when nobody else pits and you have a lot of slower guys that pitted early on and have a lot of fuel and you have to try to pass them. That was pretty much the race. From that point on, we were just trying to pull up there.”
Dixon, who continues to lead the standings heading to the final round at Chicagoland Raceway on Sunday, admitted that, while he had not personally made the call to pit under the early caution, he was not going to start apportioning blame for what proved to be a strategic mistake.
"It's not calls or anything - we win as a team, we lose as a team," he accepted, "I think my anger or whatever is just from frustration. I think we clearly had the quickest car today. Nobody was going to touch us, and still we ended up fifth. So I think that's disappointing. I think that's what makes it tough to deal with. I had already seen that movie, and it's not a good movie to watch. It's unfortunately fresh in my mind [after Sonoma].
"We passed two or three people, but [Alex] Tagliani was very tough to pass, and those are the guys that are obviously going a long distance. At some point, you think you're going to be maybe 20 laps behind them, so it's very tough to dive in there, especially when you're fighting for a championship too. You have a lot of things you have to balance out, but it's not a pretty picture, especially when the leaders go out and pull a big lead, come in, pit, and then get fresher tyres and more fuel than you. It's pretty frustrating."
The picture could have been even more dismal for the five-time race winner, however, for his sole remaining rival, Castroneves, looked to be on course for a second successive victory that would have slashed the gap between them to just 20 points heading to Sunday's showdown.