Dixon Hopes Momentum From Pocono Victory Continues In 'Two For T.O'
As the IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto “Two in T.O.,” a double-points weekend couldn’t come at a better time.
Ryan Hunter-Reay entered the Pocono INDYCAR 400 Fueled by Sunoco on July 7 just nine points behind IZOD IndyCar Series leader Helio Castroneves. With an all-Andretti Autosport front row, including pole winner Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, it appeared to be a great opportunity for Hunter-Reay to take over the championship lead or for Andretti to move up from third in the standings.
Andretti led four times for 88 laps and appeared to be the prime contender for victory. But his out-front strategy took its toll on fuel mileage, which forced him into fuel-conservation mode. Instead of victory, he finished a disappointing 10th. As for Hunter-Reay, he was making a green flag pit stop on Lap 61 when Takuma Sato could not slow in time and nailed the right-side of Hunter-Reay’s Chevrolet. After lengthy repairs to Hunter-Reay’s car, he finished 20th and dropped 23 points behind Castroneves.
Now for the good news – there are twice as many points available at Toronto because it’s a double-header weekend. If one of the drivers who faltered at Pocono can have two strong performances at Toronto, it can greatly impact the points race. The drama also will increase due to the first standing start in series history.
“Well I look forward to going to Toronto - it's one of my favorite races,” said defending Toronto winner Hunter-Reay. “It being a double, there are double points on the table, and we know the importance of the weekend, the championship coming down to the wire. First standing start - there's a lot of anticipation and nerves leading up to that on the team's part, manufacturers and drivers, so that should be interesting; it should be fun to mix things up a bit. The DHL Chevy boys and I are just hoping to keep our Toronto streak alive, which is three podiums in a row. We've come back from further to win the championship, and we've got five races left to make it happen, so we've got plenty of time.”
Andretti heads to the Toronto Indy doubleheader third in the championship, 55 points behind Castroneves. He has a best finish of fourth in 2011 on the 1.75-mile temporary street course.
"This weekend could be a big swing ether way for points with the doubleheader,” Andretti said. “I think it's going to be an attrition race with a lot of carnage, so we need to qualify the Dr. Pepper Chevy up front and try to stay out of the mess. I want to get a win in Toronto so bad because of dad's success there.”
James Hinchcliffe is from the Toronto suburb of Oakville, Ontario. He crashed in the first turn of the first lap at Pocono, dropping him to fifth in points, 84 out of the lead.
“I'm thrilled to come back to Toronto,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s one of my favorite weekends of the year - it has been since I was a kid. To get to come back here and race in front of your home crowd - at the race that essentially is the very reason I became a fan of racing, never mind a driver - it's something really special.
“Last weekend (in Pocono) obviously didn't go very well for us, but we've had strong cars on the street courses this season. And even though this isn't the place I've had the best luck, we're going to try to turn it around; the GoDaddy crew has been doing a great job. The support back home has just been incredible this year. More than anything, I want to give the Canadian fans something good to cheer for and something to celebrate because they are the best, and they've been so good to me over the last few years, and I want to repay them. Hope for a good finish, get the championship back on track and hopefully we can just go out and have two clean races.”
The 400-mile race at Pocono proved that victory didn’t go to the fastest car but the smartest driver and team. And the best strategy was employed by Chip Ganassi’s three drivers, including race winner Scott Dixon.
Dixon led twice for 38 laps, including the final 28. Dixon’s victory was his first since Mid-Ohio last August – 13 races ago. He defeated Charlie Kimball by .4572 of a second in a race that had 16 lead changes among five drivers. Dixon won the race at an average speed of 192.864 mph – the fastest IndyCar race in Pocono Raceway history. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti finished third.
Dixon moved into fourth in the standings, 65 points behind Castroneves.
“Considering the crazy and poor results we've had throughout the year, it's still astonishing that we are fourth in the championship,” Dixon said.
It was a day of milestones for Dixon, the team and for Honda. It was the 30th IndyCar victory for Dixon, the 100th victory for Target as a sponsor and the 200th victory in North American open-wheel racing for Honda. But the next milestones loom ahead.
“The milestones are great, but I think the first person I saw when I got out of the car was Chip, and I said to him, you know, this morning, I didn't think we would be sitting here,” Dixon said. “To say the least, it was a little bit of a shock. I knew the car was good. We just weren't really sure about our pace. We kind of went out there aggressively. We trimmed the car quite a bit, and just hoped that we would be able to at least hang with them and on the pit stops, maybe have a better stop and better fuel mileage, and the fuel mileage was massive. Something that we didn't expect to see as much, but I think the Chevys, looking at a lot of them on the grid, had a lot of downforce and a lot of drag on their car, so I think that helped our cause, as well.
“It’s been a rough year for us, for Team Target and also for HPD. We have had sort of small parts of goodness but not the consistency that we have been used to. I think when we have had good cars, we've maybe had an engine problem, and when we've had good engines, we've had a bit of a car problem.
“So it's nice to get back.”
It was the first win for Ganassi this season after the team got off to an unusually poor start. But it’s not too late to put on a championship charge.
“We maybe got a little lax in some areas and some other people, as well, so I think we are definitely pushing as much as possible,” Dixon said. “But when you get in these tough moments, yeah, you think, well, maybe I won't win another race. But you know, when you are with a good team and you've had a good sort of track record before, it's just great to work things out and make sure that you can get back into the groove of things.”
And Dixon became a big fan of the 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped Pocono Raceway – a track that was built for IndyCar racing and staged its first race in 1971. Pocono did not have its first NASCAR race until 1974.
After a 24-year hiatus, IndyCars are back at Pocono. It was a tremendous return.
“For me, it's the first time I had ever been to the circuit,” Dixon said. “I had obviously seen it many times on TV and watched Cup races, as well, but to come here for the first time, just the sheer size of the track, seems bigger than Indy, I don't know why; maybe with so many grandstands around it, but Turn 1 is fantastic.
“And the support that we had here today for the first time back, the fans and everybody that were out here were knowledgeable people; and people from the Watkins Glen area and some of the other racetracks and Nazareth where I got my first win, you know, five years ago or something silly. I think that we have got to go to these circuits where there's a great fan base here, very knowledgeable fans. And for us, for me, I don't know how the others feel, but I love the circuits. It's very challenging and it's very different, and you have to be good in both (turns) 1 and 3, as opposed to just sort of just getting on a run. Yeah, I'll always be excited to come back to Pocono, for sure.
“I’m so excited, super excited and just hope that we can, as I say, carry this momentum and have some more great results.”
The drivers loved the challenge of the race course. The fans loved to see the speed of the cars – about 45 mph faster than Sprint Cup cars.
According to Pocono track president Brandon Igdalsky, 60 percent of the fans were “new old ticket buyers,” many of whom had not been back to Pocono Raceway since the final CART race at the track in 1989.
The race winner said it best in Victory Lane when he spoke to the crowd over the public address system.
“I love this track,” Dixon said. “I hope IndyCar is able to race here for a long, long, long, long time.”
It was the first time Chip Ganassi Racing drivers have finished 1-2-3 in any form of competition – IZOD IndyCar Series, CART, NASCAR or GRAND-AM.
It’s Scott Dixon’s time of year when the two-time IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 is known for putting on his championship charge. He hopes to continue that this weekend at Toronto.
“I’m super excited for this week, and Toronto also is going to create some great racing,” Dixon said. "And we had a pretty decent run at Detroit even with all the problems that we had. I don't know; I wish we started the year a little more positive, and we wouldn't have to work so hard in the summer months. But I think that we have a lot of good racetracks coming up.
“Helio has still got a sizable lead in the championship. We are 65 points off the lead, sitting at fourth. I think to make second is definitely achievable, but to start making some serious inroads on Helio, we need him to have a couple of bad races here. Not wishing any bad luck on him, but that's what we will need.
“It has been a tough year. We've had some great races, and we've had a lot of bad ones. That's motor racing, man. There are ups and downs, and sometimes things are out of your control, but I'm very, very lucky to be doing what I'm doing. I love racing, and to say that's my job, you know, I'm pretty lucky, that's all I can say.”