After a tough start to the IndyCar season, Chip Ganassi’s team and Honda put themselves into contention for this year’s championship by winning four races in a row in July and August. Scott Dixon got the ball rolling by leading a Ganassi sweep of the revived Pocono 400 with team-mates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti chasing him home in second and third. In the streets of Toronto the following weekend, Dixon won the double-header on both Saturday and Sunday while Kimball drove superbly at Mid-Ohio a few weeks later to score his first IndyCar win.
Kimball qualified fifth at Mid-Ohio and ran the race flat out with three fuel stops, while early leaders Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, Dixon and Franchitti tried to save fuel and pit only twice. It turned out Kimball had the right strategy and, as the race wore on without a yellow, the others followed suit, albeit too late. Kimball drove away to win comfortably from Simon Pagenaud with Franchitti third.
Franchitti has a string of seconds and thirds this year, but had still to win by the middle of August. “Charlie drove a beautiful race at Mid-Ohio7 Dario said about team-mate Kimball. “Congratulations to him. We’re just pushing and trying to get that first win. With the work the team and Honda have done, we now have the pace. We’ve had the speed, we just haven’t executed. It will take only the smallest little thing to get me back in victory circle!’ With five races to go Dixon was second in the championship, 31 points behind Helio Castroneves, and shared Franchitti’s optimism. “I hope we can keep these results coming,” he said. “Pocono was much needed, a big turning point. We really didn’t expect to win that, and it was a big wow to win three in a row. We proved we can win on ovals and street circuits. We’ve got the car and the whole package working well and have a shot to win the title!’
Castroneves won on the Texas oval in June and finished second in St Petersburg, Milwaukee and Toronto, but it’s his consistency that has kept him on top of the championship. He was the only driver to have completed every lap at the time of writing. In 14 years racing Indycars, Castroneves has yet to win the championship but might pull it off this year through stealth rather than speed.
“We’re really focused on small details,” he said. “We’ll keep pushing; little by little we can win this championship. This is a very competitive series and guys like Charlie Kimball and Simon Pagenaud are proving themselves against the best. Charlie has two champion team-mates and he is beating them. He did a hell of job to win in Mid-Ohio!’
Hunter-Reay has been the man to beat more often than not this year, but had more than his fair share of trouble during the campaign’s middle phase. Hunter-Reay was leading at Pocono until Takuma Sato hit him in the pits. He had clutch trouble and an accident in Toronto, then took pole and led the opening 30 laps at Mid-Ohio before the wrong fuel strategy dropped him to fifth.
“We’ve been right there, second in the standings pretty much the whole year said Ryan. “We have two wins but we’ve just had a string of bad races recently. From Pocono to Toronto over eight days we had a terrible run and we were looking good at Mid-Ohio until we chose the wrong strategy. But I’m optimistic!’
Earlier this year, as the likes of Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan, Mike Conway and Simon Pagenaud won races, it looked as though an outsider might be a factor in this year’s IndyCar championship. But in the end it has once again come down to a battle between the usual suspects.