2 April 2012
Power battles to brilliant Barber win
Dixon's stop was slow - like many teams found on Sunday, there were some issues with affixing the new tyres - and he emerged back on track only just ahead of Power. For the next few minutes it looked as though Power would take the lead there and then, but Power's tyres were already worn compared with the leader and he slowly fell off the back of the Ganassi and had to concentrate on maintaining his position ahead of the cars of Castroneves and Hinchcliffe that he had just jumped over with his pit stop.
By two-thirds race distance Dixon had a 3s lead over Power and looked to have the better of his fellow Antipodean. Power rallied and closed up the gap towards the end of the stint, but the final round of pit stops remained Power's only realistic chance of striking for the lead and he came in first of the two on lap 65. A lap later and Dixon responded, coming onto a suddenly crowded pit road: a problem with the rear right wheel nut falling out of the wheel gun caused a critical delay, and Dixon found himself having to wait a split second before pulling out of his pit box because of Viso coming past. Combined with being held up by HVM's Simona de Silvestro on pit entrance, Dixon lost the vital margin and when he emerged from his stop it was to see the #12 Penske car flash past just ahead of him.
"The last stop we had a bit of a fumble on one of the tyres where there was a wheel nut or something," said Dixon later. "On the out-lap I would say Will gained two or three seconds just because he wasn't in traffic. Then I think they were maybe a little bit quicker on their stop as well. Between that and trying to get out of the pits behind Viso, I'd say we lost three or four seconds in that, which gave Will the advantage."
Out on the track while all this was going on, Katherine Legge had spun off at turn 9 and her Lotus Dragon beached itself in the gravel trap. A full course caution was absolutely inevitable, but new race director Beaux Barfield knew better than to call it right in the middle of a round of pit stops and instead delayed it until the moment that Helio Castroneves - the last of the cars still in contention for the race win - came onto pit lane.
That set up a double-file restart on lap 76, however, with Power and Dixon starting alongside each other at the green flag. Dixon initially appeared to have the jump, but Power had the better line and was able to sweep the Kiwi just far enough out to skim the dirt verge and force him to ease off. Power had the position - and the victory, as he didn't put a wheel wrong for the remaining 14 laps of the race.
"The restart, got a good jump on them," said Dixon. "But obviously being on the inside, all [Power] had to do was drive in deeper. I had been really the first one to lift or he could have kept going and I would have run wide. Tried for a few laps there, burned the rear tyres off with about five or ten to go. That was all said and done."
The biggest loser in that final restart turned out to be James Hinchcliffe, who lost positions to Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud and fell from fourth place, to end his otherwise strong day in a rather frustrating sixth.
"If we would have beat Helio out of the pits on that final stop then I just would have had to keep him behind me, which on this track isn't impossible," Hinchcliffe noted. "But that yellow came out and because of the way the timing line works coming out of the pits they gave him the spot and again I got stuck on the outside for the restart. Graham got around me and that gave Pagenaud the run and we lost two spots that we shouldn't have. It's pretty disappointing given where we started."
Castroneves felt a sense of responsibility for Hinchcliffe's poor restart and offered an apology to the Canadian. "My car was already bad with those reds and as soon as we restarted the race it pushed so bad that we kind of squeezed him and I felt terrible," he said.
Graham Rahal was happy to finish in fourth place, having led for a period during the pit stop cycles and not having made an error all afternoon - just ultimately not quite having the pace of the leaders: "The Service Central Chip Ganassi Team did a fantastic job," he said. "We made no mistakes and that's what it's all about and at the end of the day we had a really solid finish. We move on from here on to Long Beach with a lot of confidence. We know we can run with these guys and we're going to try to do it again."
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