7 August 2011
Emphatic win for flawless Dixon
No one could touch Scott Dixon, not even his team mate Dario Franchitti who benefited from lucky pit stop timing to widen his lead over Will Power in the championship.
After the grandeur of Indianapolis, the novelty of the Texas double-header, the thrills of Iowa, the crash-fest that was Toronto and the absorbing rematch at Edmonton, the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was unfortunately IndyCar back to its most average.
That much was clear from the start, when most of the field remained locked in its starting positions for the first third of the race. The exceptions were Marco Andretti and Helio Castroneves who both made up positions in the early laps; and James Hinchliffe, who went flying off onto the grass avoiding a swerving Alex Tagliani and consequently dropped to the back of the field.
Hinchcliffe was furious and radioed his pit demanding to know why no action was being taken against Tagliani, who earlier last week was placed under probation for having caused accidents at previous races: "Tag decided I didn't deserve enough race track to stay on the race track and I got pushed off in turn 5 so we fell right to the back," complained Hinchliffe immediately afterwards. But TV replays showed what Hinch was in no position to see - that Tag has swerved to avoid Charlie Kimball on the other side, and in any case had come no where close to touching the #06 before it moved right and lost traction on the grass verge.
The other notable incident during the opening lap was a clash between Dario Franchitti and Will Power who were starting alongside each other from the second row of the grid. The two banged wheels, Power giving the left rear of Franchitti a hefty clout that threatened to spin the #10 before Dario pulled it together. After the race, Franchitti made a point of mentioning the incident as "Will's best efforts at the start to spin me around" as if to rebut the accusations Power had made at Toronto about Franchitti driving dirty while he himself always raced clean. Power for his part merely shrugged and said that it was no different from what had happened at Toronto.
After that, the race settled down to a procession, until Hinchcliffe - still stuck at the back - decided that a bold move was better than nothing at all and opted to come into the pits early, even though it would mean a splash-and-dash stop late in the race unless some cautions materialised to help him stretch the fuel to the end of 85 laps.
Hinchcliffe's boldness seemed to immediately to pay off: Sebastian Saavedra, who a lap previously had lost a position to Danica Patrick when his brakes locked up, suffered the same problem on lap 22 - and this time ended up running off the track, through the dirt and into the tyre barrier at turn 2. That brought out a full course caution, which meant that virtually everyone would be coming into pit lane next time around - leaving Hinchcliffe suddenly at the front, a remarkable transformation in affairs.
Will Power thought he had pulled off a masterstroke when he dived into pit lane as the caution came out, but race control judged him to have come in after pit lane had been shut for the caution and so he was ordered to drive-thru instead, costing him positions and adding to the frustration of the day. He joined the rest of the field coming in for their stops minutes later, during which time Graham Rahal lost time when he had to brake to avoid James Jakes coming into the pit box just on front, which resulted in him stalling; Ryan Briscoe also lost time when there was a problem with his left front lugnut, while Simona de Silvestro hit a tyre laid out for Marco Andretti as she came into her own pit box.
At the restart on lap 27, Hinchcliffe was in second place behind Danica Patrick who had opted to stay out in search of some Hail Mary off-sync strategy that might bring her race to life. It didn't, and Hinchliffe and Dixon were quickly past her at the green flag - Patrick almost running into the back of the #9 in the process.
There was real trouble in the midfield when EJ Viso was forced to brake by JR Hildebrand swooping around him on the outside, resulting in Helio Castroneves making light contact with the rear of the #59, which tipped Viso into a spin that also caught Hildebrand. Castroneves was then unable to miss the accident in front of him, while Mike Conway went off-track on the other side in avoidance. Conway and Viso were least affected, while both Castroneves and Hildebrand had costly visits to the pits.
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