IndyCar championship tightens up

Indycar

IndyCar’s championship battle got a little tighter at Mid-Ohio last weekend as Scott Dixon kept his title hopes alive by scoring an excellent win while Will Power retook the points lead by qualifying on the pole and finishing second.

Championship leader going into Mid-Ohio was Ryan Hunter-Reay who endured a dismal day after struggling with fuel injection problems in the second half of the race and failing to make the finish so that he fell five points behind Power.

Most of the way it looked like Power’s race but Dixon beat him out of the pits from the second round of pit stops. They came in together with Power leading Dixon by barely a car length. But Dixon’s pit was directly ahead of Power’s and Scott was able to take a straight line into his pit stall while Will had to thread his way around his rival’s car. That meant Chip Ganassi’s team was able to connect its fuel hose to Dixon’s car a fraction ahead of the Penske team, enabling Dixon to leave his pit before Power.

“They’re such tight pit boxes here and he had a clean shot in and I had to turn around his car,” Power remarked. “That meant he was able to get his fuel hose attached ahead of me, but it was still a very good points day. I’m happy to get on the podium. We’ll get a win soon and keep going after that championship.”

Thereafter Dixon was untouchable, pulling away to win by more than three seconds. It was his fourth win at Mid-Ohio and his second in a row at the track, pulling him back into the championship stakes, 28 points behind Power. This was also the 29th win of Dixon’s IndyCar career putting him into a tie with Rick Mears for 10th on IndyCar’s all-time winners list.

“When we started the race we were struggling to get the front end to grip,” Dixon said. “But we were making fuel mileage and were able to maintain pace and the last pit stop was fantastic. That got me in front and it puts us back in the hunt for the championship. We’re well in the hunt now.”

Power came home second with Simon Pagenaud driving an excellent race to finish third and Sebastien Bourdais taking fourth, his best result since winning his last Champ Car race five years ago. Hunter-Reay qualified eighth at Mid-Ohio and ran thereabouts until hitting engine problems. He struggled for straight line speed and was turfed off the road by Takuma Sato at one stage, but recovered only to have to pull in with just three laps to go. He was classified 24th.

“We really didn’t need this right now,” Hunter-Reay commented. “I think we could have had a third today based on the fuel strategy we were on and the pace we were running. But we can still make this happen. We can still go and win this championship, but we just can’t have days like this. Chevy has done a great job for us but they’re new engines and these things are going to happen. There are three races to go and three races where we can be really strong. We’re going to fight for this thing to the bitter end.”

Helio Castroneves’s championship hopes also took a knock at Mid-Ohio. Edmonton winner Castroneves crashed in testing at Mid-Ohio the week before the race, then crashed in last Friday’s opening practice. After qualifying 13th Helio took a 10-place grid penalty when he decided to change his engine for the race and as a result he finished the race no better than 16th. Castroneves is now 26 points behind team-mate Power in the championship and two ahead of fourth-placed Dixon.

Also out of luck at Mid-Ohio was defending champion Dario Franchitti who qualified second and ran well in the opening laps before falling back and then damaging his nose on the tail of Josef Newgarden’s car. Franchitti had to stop for a new nose and finished 17th so that he’s now eighth in points and out of the championship reckoning.

Saturday’s ALMS race at Mid-Ohio provided the fifth win of the year for Greg Pickett’s HPD-Honda driven by Klaus Graf/Lucas Luhr. Second went to Rob Dyson’s lead Lola-Mazda driven by Guy Smith/Chris Dyson. The LMP Challenge category was taken by Marino Franchitti/Rudy Junco while Oliver Gavin drove a great race to score his third GT win of the year for Corvette, holding off a late challenge from Jorg Bergmeister’s Flying Lizard Porsche.

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