LEXINGTON, Ohio – When it comes to the 13-turn, 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Scott Dixon is The Master.
Since the IZOD IndyCar Series first started competing here in 2007 Dixon has four wins including the last two seasons in a row. Combine that with a three-race winning streak that began at Pocono Raceway on July 7 and followed with a double-header sweep at Toronto no wonder Dixon can feel upbeat heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
He is second in the standings just 29 points behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and was the second-fastest driver in Friday’s combined practice session with a time of 1:05.4469 (124.205 miles per hour) in a Dallara/Honda.
That was just a tick slower than Team Penske’s Will Power, who had the fastest lap of the day at 1:05.4332 (124.231 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was third quick at 1:05.501 (124.100 mph) and is 69 points out of the lead, just one point ahead of Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti. So that makes Sunday’s 90-lap, 203.22-mile race pivotal in regards to the 2013 series title.
Dixon has the confidence and the momentum as he goes for his fifth Mid-Ohio win but also realizes past success doesn’t guarantee anything.
“I’ve only started on the pole here once,” Dixon said. “Last year I think we were fifth and the year before we were sixth. It’s just a difficult track to pass on. You know it’s just not like the street courses we’ve had this year. It’s just a tough race being an old-school American road course.
“We’ve had other ones like this, but they’ve been taken away. It’s just an old school racing track. We’ve always done pretty well here. You just get to hang out and camp and have fun.”
Hunter-Reay is another driver that needs to gain ground on Castroneves this weekend at Mid-Ohio and hopes his third-fast time from Friday combined with Castroneves’ turning just the 12th fastest time of the day can work to his advantage.
“It was a pretty productive day,” Hunter-Reay said. “We lost some overall grip in the track today… I think everybody experienced it – it’s the same for everyone, but it’s a bit of an engineering exercise to stay on top of the track (conditions). I think the whole team is in the same ballpark, and we have competitive race cars; that’s all we can ask for. We just have to go and make it better for qualifying and the race. We’ve got the No. 1 DHL Chevy up front and we can work from there.”
Castroneves admitted his team as trying a few tricks to make the car go faster than didn’t necessarily work on Friday. There’s another practice session Saturday morning followed by Firestone Fast Six Qualifications Saturday afternoon.
“Towards the end of practice we tried a different strategy with the tires, something a little early than everyone else,” Castroneves said. “Of course this track gets better towards the end of a run, so we will continue to work on that strategy tomorrow.”
Power’s run at a championship needs some serious work. With just six races left he is 10th in the standings 152 out of the lead.
So rather than worry about points Power can concentrate on winning races after he had the fast lap of Friday’s session.
“It was definitely hard to get the car right, this year period for me,” Power said. “We’re starting to understand, so definitely on the right track. Got a good time in at the end there, few mistakes during the session but we’re narrowing it down. I’d love nothing more than just to get on the pole here and have a chance to win a race, it’s unbelievable. But good so far, and we’ll keep working hard.”
Former Honda F1 test drier Lucca Filipi was the big surprise on Friday. After getting named to the Bryan Herta Autosport Dallara/Honda after the team dumped Alex Tagliani, Fillipi was the fifth fastest driver on Friday with a time of 1:05.734 (123.658 mph). That was just behind Dario Franchitti’s time of 1:05.701 (123.722 mph) in another Dallara/Honda.
“I’m very excited because this is my first Indy car race,” Fillipi said. “For me it’s something very special and something I dreamed about my entire life. In Italy, Indy car is very popular. We have it on live TV and we really like it. It’s the kind of racing I’ve always wanted to do and finally I get an Indy car drive.
“I’m very excited. It’s good we are doing it at Mid-Ohio, a permanent circuit; it’s still different from what I’m used to, but a bit closer. It’s very good we had an Open Test, so I had a chance to learn the car and work with the boys, the new engineers. Actually I fit great with them. It’s a fantastic team. Very nice people. We had a good time last week in Indianapolis when we made the seat. We had a lot of time to talk. They are very open-minded people that are trying to make me feel at home and I really appreciate (it). So far, so good. I still have a few things to learn and it’s not going to be easy this weekend. I think we have everything in place to do well.”
Filippi is attempting to keep his expectation level realistic this weekend.
“Bryan (Herta) has been absolutely nice to me,” Filippi said. “He has all the faith. He’s been following myself since my GP2 career. He always said he always appreciated what I’ve done. He said that I just need to take my time. There’s no pressure. There’s no rush. I have to say nobody is putting any pressure on the weekend. It’s myself that I’m the first that wants to perform. I’m a racing driver. I feel that it’s a competition and the biggest pressure comes from myself and the biggest expectation is the one I personally have. I know that these guys are fast and these guys are tough to beat. I’m not expecting anything special, but I have my goals in my mind and I still need to work between today and tomorrow to get closer.”
Filippi hopes to do more races for the team after Mid-Ohio but is happy to have a ride after a potential deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing didn’t materialize.
“I’ve been trying for a while to get here,” Filippi said. “But now the taste is even better because it took a while and finally I’m here. Obviously, we’re talking about a super-competitive series. It’s also normal that it’s tough to get in here. What I have to make sure now is to stay here longer, which is the most difficult part. So one step is done and we have many, many steps to go and I have to make sure I do my best to do everything.”