5 August 2012
Dixon beats Power in pit lane at Mid-Ohio
Another caution-free IZOD IndyCar Series race dominated by differing fuel strategies should have made it impossible for anyone to beat Will Power - but Scott Dixon managed it.
Given the atrocious conditions in the morning, you'd have got high odds against the track drying to the point where slick tyres were the only sensible call for the start of the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
You'd have got nearly as absurd odds over the race not only staying dry throughout, but running entirely caution-free just as it had done at the previous event at Edmonton - there haven't been back-to-back caution-free races in IndyCar and its predecessor series in 25 years.
And only slightly less unlikely than all this was the prospect that polesitter Will Power would have the lead prised from his hands before the chequered flag came out.
All these things did indeed come to pass on an overcast but surprisingly rain-free Sunday afternoon in Lexington. Ohio, with the race starting on schedule and Will Power soon pulling out a comfortable lead over fellow front row man Dario Franchitti, who never seemed to have quite the same pace of the rest of the leaders as he struggled to stay in front of Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon.
Overtaking has been a problem in the past at Mid-Ohio, but that didn't seem to be the case this year as Sebastien Bourdais was quick to show how it was possible to make clean, assertive passes as he worked his way past Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden to settle into fifth place behind Pagenaud over the opening half dozen laps, and seemingly while preserving his push-to-pass overtaking boost allocation at the same time.
Also on the move and showing how easy overtaking could be on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road course was Justin Wilson, although in his case the situation he found himself in was a sightly less than happy one: he'd been the meat in a Rubens Barrichello/Marco Andretti sandwich on the first lap, and while he'd just about backed out in time to avoid disaster in the initial action he then ended up making contact with the back of Barrichello's KV Racing car and spinning, which dropped him to the back of the field and made his ensuing overtaking moves a desperate necessity in the circumstances rather than a nice-to-have luxury.
Oriol Servia was in the pits very early for mechanical problems on lap 3 and EJ Viso came in on lap 9, but the majority of cars didn't come on to pit road until around lap 15. These were the drivers who had accepted that they weren't going to be able to stretch their fuel load nearly far enough to even try a two-stopper, and who instead would try to make up the extra time in the pits by burning the fuel at a richer setting and by making use of clearer track. Among those taking this route were James Hinchcliffe, Tony Kanaan, EJ Viso, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato - who got a drive-thru for speeding in the pit lane, the only penalty handed out all afternoon.
Other drivers tried to lean out the fuel mix far enough to make it to the two-stopper window, but had to admit defeat and pit early thereby converting to a compromised three-stopper after all: Josef Newgarden, James Jakes and Rubens Barrichello appeared to fall into that category when they were forced into pit lane at the end of lap 25, leaving only the hardiest souls to go for the summit.
Franchitti, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay were on a knife-edge coming in on lap 27, while Power, Dixon and Bourdais seemed to have a better chance of making it the full distance by stretching it one lap more. That extra lap proved invaluable when it came to track position as well, with Power retaining the lead out of pit lane but now with Dixon falling into second place ahead of Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, Kanaan and Franchitti - although Hinchcliffe and Kanaan needed to come in just six laps after for their second of three stops, shuffling them back down the running order again for the time being.
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