2008 Indy 500 Winner Dixon Seeks To Extend Mid-Ohio Mastery This Weekend
When it comes to mastering the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, nobody in the IZOD IndyCar Series does it any better than 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time series champion Scott Dixon.
Since the IZOD IndyCar Series arrived at Mid-Ohio for the first time in 2007, Dixon has three wins (2007, 2009 and 2011), one third place (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 does 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 2003-11. This is the first time the Dallara DW12 will be used in competition at Mid-Ohio, although 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-quickest in Friday’s practice session at 1 minute, 07.0213 seconds around the 12-turn, 2.258-mile natural road course for a speed of 121.287 mph. That was just a tick slower than Team Penske’s Will Power’s lap at 1:06.8632, 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 – 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, 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 start of the race coming 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 4, 5, 6, 7 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.”
Every great race course has its characteristic areas. Mid-Ohio has two – the “Keyhole” in Turns 2 and 3 and the long Carousel that feeds Turns 10, 11 and 12.
“They are challenging in their own right,” Dixon said. “For me, Turn 1, with the bridge there in the new car in qualifying will be almost flat. It’s going to be crazy quick. It’s exciting. That’s going to be a tough corner. The Keyhole and Turn 2 is a 180-degree turn, but it goes over a rise and is very grippy. It’s got massive grip. The Carousel is fun. It goes on forever. You trail brake all the way from fourth and fifth gear all the way to second gear in a long, right-hand corner before you go back to the front straight. That is the cool thing about a lot of these old tracks we race on – big oscillations.
“I think Turn 1 is going to be really fun this weekend from a driver’s standpoint because once you get reds (softer Firestone tires) in qualifications, I think you will be almost flat. In the older car, you never had that sort of thing. This track is all about flow. Every corner is very tricky. When you come back, you’ve been not here, and there is no rubber on the track. It is very greasy. It has a funny sealant to it that makes you work extra hard to try to find that little bit of speed to get out of it.”
Less than a 3-1/2-hour car ride from Indianapolis, many of the drivers and crew members stay at the track in either the luxurious motorhomes for the drivers, campers that are rented by crew members or for those who really want to get back to nature, tents.
An IndyCar weekend at Mid-Ohio is almost like a weekend at Boy Scout camp.
“It is and a lot of families come in early,” Dixon said. “We have friends that come in from Indy on Wednesday night or Thursday to stay there the whole weekend. It’s a fun vibe. Away from the high-tension stuff, it’s fun to cruise around and catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while because everybody is in the one spot. It’s great for families and small groups of people to come and hang out and make a long weekend of it.
“IndyCar is very different with the relationships from other sports like Formula One and NASCAR. Everybody gets along here really well. Most of the time I hang out with Dario or Marco (Andretti) or Chip (Ganassi) or Mike (Hull). It’s a great environment and a lot of fun. It’s changed a lot from when I first came in, and it was a lot of single guys with motorhomes. Now we are all married with families, and the little kids hang out. It’s great for my family and wife to hang out with people.”
Dixon is hopeful that Mid-Ohio signals his championship charge down the stretch, which includes the race Aug. 26 at Sonoma, Calif., the Baltimore Grand Prix on Sept. 2 and wraps up Sept. 15 with the big 2-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
“I like all the tracks,” Dixon said. “I have a few favorites over the past few years. We can do well at all of them. We go into every weekend having a good shot at trying to win the race. This championship has been very up and down. You’ve seen lots of big swings in the points. With four races to go, it’s pretty easy to lose. We have to keep our head down and not get too overanxious and try to be there at the end to win the championship.”
And that could begin by mastering the moment this weekend at Mid-Ohio.