Winner Scott Dixon gets doused on the podiun by runner-up Will Power, left and third-place finisher Simon Pagenaud.
Lexington, Ohio — The IndyCar points leaders took a big hit Sunday, and the points race is much tighter because of it. Defending Mid-Ohio race champion Scott Dixon took the lead in the pits on lap 57 ahead of pole-sitter Will Power, then led the parade in the final 28 laps of the Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio to defend his crown.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, who came in leading the points standings, and Helio Castroneves, who was second, finished 24th and 16th, respectively, leaving the championship race in a bottleneck with three races left.
Power, who finished second, leaped from third to first (379) in the title chase with 379 points. Hunter-Reay (374) is second and Castroneves (353) is third. Dixon (351) remains fourth, but the 61 points that separated the top four drivers going into the race has been whittled to 28.
“That’s crazy for this time of year,” Dixon said of the close points race. “It’s going to be a tough end of the year, but we’re pumped.”
For the second straight IndyCar race, it was green flag from start to finish as the tight and narrow Mid-Ohio course limited passing opportunities among the leaders. That was made to order for Dixon, who started fourth but has a history of pristine efforts at Mid-Ohio. He has now won at the 13-turn, 2.25-mile circuit in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2012.
For this one, the New Zealand native never made a pass on the track, but still saw the checkered flag first.
Rain early in the day delayed pre-race practice. Once the cars got on the track, it became a slip and slide affair for many of them as more than one driver spun in a corner or slid off line into a sand pit.
When the race began, two drivers were already in the penalty box as both Castroneves and Alex Tagliani were dropped to the back of the starting grid — Castroneves to 14th, Tagliani to 23rd — for unapproved engine changes. Hunter-Reay had no such problems, starting seventh. But engine woes midway through the race would cost him dearly as he finished only 79 of the 85 laps.
Power sat on the pole and led the first 57 laps. Dixon moved from fourth to second on lap 28 when two drivers in front of him — Dario Franchitti and Sebastian Bourdais pitted, leaving him behind Power.
Dixon remained second until the final pit stop of the day on lap. Both he and Power pitted at the same time, with Dixon’s stall right behind Power’s. Dixon’s crew got the job done quicker, and Dixon was on his way out of his pit stall and beside Power as the leader came off his jacks. That’s as close as Power would get to the front the rest of the day.
“I knew that would be a tough pit, both on the same lap,” Power said.
Both he and Dixon noted Mid-Ohio has the smallest, tightest pit boxes in the series, meaning Power had the disadvantage of slowing down, then going around Dixon’s crew while Dixon, with the pit box behind him empty, could slide in on the fly.
“You realize going in it’s going to be tight,” Power said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. That’s racing. Still, it was a very good day. That was everything we had. Definitely a good points day.”
Dixon won by 3.46 seconds, with Power leading 57 laps, Dixon 26, and James Hinchcliffe leading two during pit stop rotations. This also proved to be the first time since 1987 that two straight IndyCar races were run without a caution flag.
Add ‘em up: IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard spoke briefly with the media before the race and said he wants to increase the number of races next season. There are 15 in 2012 after China earlier this year bailed out of a race scheduled for Aug. 19.
“We have to have a minimum of 19 races,” Bernard began. “I think we have to be able to bring more attention to these drivers and these sponsors.”
Interestingly, Mike Lanigan, promoter for the Cleveland Grand Prix, that last was run in 2008, was at Mid-Ohio and well aware of IndyCar’s wishes. The promoter already has a race in Houston locked into the 2013 open-wheel schedule. Asked about Cleveland, his response was, “I haven’t given up.”
The big stumbling block for Cleveland’s return remains the same, which is finding a title sponsor.
Good news for Legge: Katherine Legge, the former Polestar protege now with IndyCar’s Dragon Racing Team, has been somewhat on the sidelines since the Indianapolis 500 as the race team had just one Chevrolet engine to share between Legge and teammate Bourdais. Since Bourdais is the more accomplished road racer, and most of the races since Indy have been street courses, Legge has sat.
No more. Team owner Jay Penske announced Sunday the team has secured a second engine from Chevy for Legge to race in Sonoma, Calif., a street race. That will give her two straight events behind the wheel, as an oval at Infineon Raceway follows that.
“Obviously I’m thrilled to get back behind the wheel of my TrueCar Chevrolet in Sonoma and also to get the opportunity to test there prior to the race,” Legge said. “We’re all racers and anytime you have to sit out a race it’s tough, but we’ve been doing the best with the situation and hopefully we will be able to get the results we know we’re capable of in Sonoma.”