5 August 2012
Dixon beats Power in pit lane at Mid-Ohio
The main pack of three-stoppers had just cycled through pit road again when some spots of rain flirted with making their presence known as the cars hit lap 35. A heavy shower at this point forcing everyone to pit lane for rain tyres would have completely upset the strategy apple cart; but the proper rain didn't materialise, the spots stopped, and the track remained dry.
As the race reached the halfway point of the 85-lap distance, the drivers started to realise that a caution-free race was actually a viable prospect - and that left even Power and Dixon, the longest-lasting of the two-stoppers, fearing that they were two laps short if the race went all the way to the finish on green flags. They had to keep a tight control on their fuel usage, and that handed the momentum back to the best of those on three stop strategies such as Hinchcliffe and Kanaan who had no such concerns about running flat-out for as long as it took.
Power was still in the lead ahead of Dixon, Bourdais, Franchitti, Pagenaud and Hunter-Reay, but they couldn't feel comfortable about how it was going. Pit stops for the "failed two-stoppers" including Newgarden signalled that the final round of stops for everyone were fast looming, but before he could reach that point there were already problems for Ryan Hunter-Reay who was visibly off the pace on lap 54 and dropping multiple positions.
The engine sounded sour as it passed pit lane, and it soon emerged that one of the injectors was pumping too much fuel into the Chevrolet unit: it was, in essence, being slowly poisoned to death. Hunter-Reay tried to coax it to the finish in the hope of salvaging some points but in the end he dropped all the way to 23rd place and off the lead lap having been tapped off the track entirely at one point by Takuma Sato who had been preoccupied with his own battle for position with Giorgio Pantano.
"The engine just started losing power and it just gradually got worse the longer we tried to run," said Hunter-Reay after the race. "It finally just gave up there at the end. It died a slow death."
It was indeed ultimately a lost battle for Hunter-Reay, and a big blow for the American in his IZOD IndyCar Series championship title battle, especially with Power looking set to lead every single lap of the race and come out with maximum points for the weekend.
Hunter-Reay did get one small break of fortune, however, when Power and Dixon once again timed their final pit stop together at the end of lap 57. Dixon had the pit stop right before Power, and got a smoother entrance which allowed to line up the #9 exactly square and in line with the refuelling hose. Power, on the other hand, had to manoeuvre around Dixon's pit crew which cost him a fraction of a second and made it just that slightly bit more awkward for his refueller to insert the hose. It was a matter of fractions: just as the margin by which Dixon beat Power out of pit road proved to be.
That put Dixon and Power out in second third place well behind Hinchcliffe, whose three-stop strategy gave him two laps out in front before it was time for his own final visit to pit road. The fuel strategy was working for him, and he came back out on track right alongside Dixon and Power: however, they were already up to speed and their momentum saw them fly past the GoDaddy.com car as they left Hinchcliffe embroiled in the battle for third place between Bourdais, Pagenaud and Franchitti.
Bourdais and Pagenaud just squeezed past before Hinchcliffe was up to speed, but Franchitti was not so lucky. He tried to line up a full overtaking move on the lime green #27 but misjudged it, clipping his front wing on Hinchcliffe's rear wheel guards. The Canadian escaped without any significant damage; but Franchitti's wing was wrecked. He would have to come in to pit lane for a replacement, and that was going to drop him down from sixth place all the way to 17th - symbolic of the "no luck other than bad luck" that had dominated much of Franchitti's season outside of his Indy 500 win in May.
"I just made a mistake, I drove into the back of Hinchcliffe," he admitted. "I just misjudged how long the nose of the car was. It's totally my mistake. We had to come in and change it, so that was really our day. I think up until that we were struggling a little bit to make fuel mileage but at the end of the day it's my fault."
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