LEXINGTON, Ohio – Will Power hopes to reclaim his title as the IZOD IndyCar Series “King of the Road,” Scott Dixon attempts to continue his “Mastery of Mid-Ohio,” Helio Castroneves is “Sick as a Dog” and Graham Rahal “Will Race for Paycheck.”
Those are the top stories that came out of Friday’s practice session for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200.
Power was the fastest driver in Friday’s practice session with a fast lap time of 1:06.863 (121.574 miles per hour) around the 12-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course.
The Team Penske driver is third in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings, 26 behind Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was 16th fastest of the 25 drivers in Friday’s practice.
“This new DW12 Indy car feels great here – lot’s more power and more downforce – you can really get after a lap,” Power said. “We’re bloody determined to get the pole here tomorrow. I think the entire Verizon 12 Chevy Team is very happy with today and the results. The weather is going to change a lot over the next day or so. It was good to get a fast clean lap and get confidence going into tomorrow. For the rest of the year we need to win poles and win races if we are going to win the Championship, it’s pretty simple. We need to run well and fast to make up ground in the points race.”
Since the IZOD IndyCar Series arrived at Mid-Ohio for the first time in 2007, he has three wins (2007, 2009 and 2011), one third (2008) and a fifth (2010). Last year, he led a 1-2 sweep for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing finishing ahead of this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti.
Dixon is hoping to continue that mastery this weekend in the Honda Indy 200 as he arrives fourth in the standings 61 behind points leader Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport.
“Mastery?” Dixon asked. “I think for me a lot of it is the team. We’ve always worked hard for that place – we work hard at every place – but a few years ago we stumbled on a good basic setup and it is has transferred from car to car and do a pretty good job. We’ve had days where we haven’t started at the front and days when we have started at the pole. It’s nice to win three times at that track and always a fun place to go.”
All of Dixon’s past performances came in the old Dallara chassis that was used from 2003-2011. This is the first time the Dallara DW12 will be used in actual competition at Mid-Ohio although the late two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon tested it here last summer.
For Dixon, it doesn’t matter if it is the old Dallara or the new car because he was second-fast in Friday’s practice session at 1:07.021 around the 12-turn, 2.258-mile natural road course for a speed of 121.287 miles per hour. That was just a tick slower than Team Penske’s Will Power’s lap at 1:06.863 (121.574 mph).
“It’s one of those tracks that I don’t know why; it just clicks,” Dixon said. “With the basic setup it has worked well. Even when we have tested there with the new car it was pretty quick as well. It’s a fun track, it has a great flow and it’s a lot of fun for the fans to come and camp out. We have a lot of fans that come and camp out there. I can’t put a finger on it but it’s a place where myself and the team feel comfortable. We had a 1-2 finish there with the 9 (Dixon) and 10 (Franchitti) cars last year and that is the plan there this year as well.”
Ironically, just once has a driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series won at Mid-Ohio and won the series championship in the same season and that was Franchitti in 2010.
“You need to be good everywhere and we’ve had a few thorns in our side over the past two or three years,” Dixon said. “We’ve been there; we’ve been in the championship hunt. We’ve had early on problems that have taken us out of contention. As a team we’ve had great speed and every weekend we go to the track and have a great opportunity to win the race. I think it’s been a little bit of luck. If we have favorite tracks like Mid-Ohio where we do well maybe they should have a double-header there or two or three weekends where we race there it would be better for the championship.”
With the return of “Push-to-Pass” and the introduction of a five-second delay before the “Overtake Assist” kicks in it’s designed so that drivers will use it as an offensive tool rather than a defensive device.
But there are many reasons why Mid-Ohio is so unique including the race gets started on the long straightaway out of the third turn rather than at the traditional start/finish line.
“It’s purposely for the start to make it clean and have a good braking zone going into Turn 4, the hairpin there,” Dixon said. “It’s visually a lot better for the fans because turns four, five, six, seven that section everybody camps out and it’s packed there. To start the race there is a good spot. The finish is over by start/finish and it’s the only track where we start and finish in the same spot. That’s quite unique. But as a driver that doesn’t play too much. You focus on the start and the finish two totally different times. I think it is perfect for that track.”
While most drivers enjoyed the off weekend, Helio Castroneves was involved in a crash with Charlie Kimball in last week’s test at Mid-Ohio. He also caught the flu earlier this week. The Team Penske driver is second in the standings just 23 points behind Hunter-Reay but operating at less than 100 percent the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was 14th on Friday at 1:07.551 (120.334 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
“It was a good day for the No. 3 Penske Truck Rental team,” Castroneves said. “I didn’t get to practice much here a week ago because of an accident so we felt a little behind plus it doesn’t help that I am not feeling well. I’m confident we will turn things around and hopefully this is just the beginning to a very good weekend.”
Graham Rahal’s days with team owner Chip Ganassi may be coming to an end when he was told that he would not be retained for the 2013 season unless additional sponsorship is found to keep a four-car team. The driver and team had until Aug. 1 to reach an agreement for next season and were unable to do so.
Rahal didn’t let that bad news slow him down as he was fifth in practice at 1:07.108 (121.129 mph) in a Dallara/Honda.
“It was a good day for us,” said Rahal, who grew up about a one-hour drive from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in New Albany, Ohio. “I’m proud of the guys and they’re working really hard. The ultimate goal is to come here and to win, so we’re off to a good start. We’ve got a really good car and I’m not sure we got a hundred percent out of it yet. Certainly, we’re really happy with the NTB/Service Central car and we’ll just keep working away.”
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