While Filippi is getting his big break, the drivers challenging for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship are prepared to settle it on the race track over the next six races.
Castroneves is best known for three things – his three Indianapolis 500 victories, his signature celebration of climbing the fence after a victory and winning “Dancing with the Stars” in 2007.
The one thing Castroneves has been unable to achieve, however, is an IZOD IndyCar Series championship. The popular Brazilian driver realizes this may be his last best chance at winning the title.
“Interesting, when you have opportunities like I have, I want as bad as anybody,” Castroneves said. “Especially having those guys behind me, I have that chance. Experienced guys, experienced teams.
“When you put yourself in this position, yes, I’m going to fight as much as I can. If I have a good car to finish, I will finish strong. If I don’t have a good car to finish, I’ll play smart. You use different strategies, ways to put us there. That’s what’s happening at this point.
“So I want it more than anybody.”
Castroneves’ main competitor is Dixon, a two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner. He began the season struggling with the Honda engine but when the latest generation Honda was introduced before Pocono the driver from New Zealand has been unbeaten with the new engine.
His Target/Chip Ganassi Racing team also decided to test at Sebring Int’l Raceway in the middle of the summer to get a better understanding of the Firestone tires and how to set up their Dallara chassis to optimize their race setup. Anybody who has been to Central Florida in the heat and humidity of the summer knows how miserable that can be but Dixon believes it was essential in igniting his hot streak and making him a legitimate championship contender this season.
“We seemed to find an area that we think we’re in a pretty good condition,” Dixon explained. “The car still brakes well, obviously has mechanical grip, looks after the tires pretty well, too.
“I think we should probably credit some of the gains that we made, everybody went and tested at Pocono, tested at other places, we went to Sebring in the middle of summer, which is never too much fun, worked on the car, worked on some of the issues we had at the start the year, tried to zero in on where we were going wrong, and I think that’s definitely helped.”
A win at Mid-Ohio would be his fourth straight this season and his fifth win of his career at Mid-Ohio.
“It would be nice,” Dixon said. “Mid-Ohio has been a good place for us. We’ve won there, I don’t know, four times. I’m hoping to gain some good points there.
“But typically Penske have been strong there, as well. We’ll go there and do our best. I think we have a pretest there the Wednesday before the race weekend. We’ll see how that shapes up.
“But, yeah, I’m confident in the fact that we’ve had cars that have worked there in the past. Areas where we’ve developed, Barber, the car was the best. We had to fight our way. Didn’t do my job as well as I should have in qualifying and just came up short.
“I think we’re all confident going to Mid-Ohio and hopefully that plays true.”
There are several key factors to consider in Dixon’s rapid resurgence that has placed him in the center of this battle with his Team Penske rival starting from the top of the team all the way down.
“Everybody has had a lot of sit-down time with Chip, which is always interesting and gets you a little refocused,” Dixon said. “People were kind of lacking confidence.
“I think Pocono was one of those weekends where, yes, some of the cars had new generation engines, not all of them, and they had worked on areas that did help us win that race. I think they do help us at circuits like this, as well. Honda is doing the best they can. They’re a great group of people. I’ve worked for them for many years, with them for many years, and they weren’t in competition. I think they’re coming back. They’re digging deep. The toughest thing I think in the series is you get five engines for the season. You take kind of two of those updates around Indy time. So you’re stuck with a spec for so long. If there is a bit of separation, there’s really no way to catch up unless you start taking engine penalties. We’ve had our fair share of those this year.
“It’s been a little bit of Honda, a little bit of the team. I think everybody sort of refocusing. Pocono was a big shot in the arm for confidence and getting things together. It’s not one thing; it’s been a combination of a lot.
“It’s unfortunate we gave up so many points throughout the year. Texas, I was excited about how good our car was, thought we could really race for a victory there. Even Iowa, could have gone a little better, too. Having those engine problems there. Actually, it was an electrical problem with our car that we ended up finding at Pocono.
You think more about the ones you gave up, sort of dwell on you a little bit more. We’ll go into these race weekends with an open mind and try to do the best we can.
“Obviously we go to every race weekend trying to win. That’s what we’ll try to do for, what have we got, six more races to go.”
And these next six races should be quite a battle and it all begins at Dixon’s best track – the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“The way the year started, I didn’t think we’d even be close towards the front of the championship,” Dixon said. “I think there’s been a fair share of other good guys, guys that have had good points that have had their issues, as well. It’s actually closed the gap a fair bit.
“This is the stretch that we need to make a good time of it. Helio has had pretty much a free run this year. He hasn’t had any DNF’s. I think he’s finished on the lead lap of every race. No mechanicals. Hunter-Reay has had a few DNF’s, been involved in a few accidents, and so have other people.
“Hopefully we can make a good strong run towards the end, but Pocono was the turning point to us.”