Power held off Simon Pagenaud for second, while Sebastian Bourdais rebounded from a disappointing qualifying effort to finish fourth. James Hinchcliffe used alternate pit strategy to climb from 15th on the grid all the way up to fifth at race's end.
The championship standings are shuffled dramatically with the race results. While Power finished second, championship leader Ryan Hunter-Reay suffered a difficult race that ultimately ended early due to engine problems. Helio Castroneves, second in points at the start of the day, struggled through the entire race, finishing 16th.
The green flag flew under slightly threatening skies, with rain in the area much of the day. Power led from the start over Dario Franchitti. Behind them, a number of drivers played bumper cars with each other, leading to Justin Wilson spinning as the field approached the pit straight. He kept it running though and rejoined the race, preventing a full-course caution.
Up front, rookie Josef Newgarden had been the biggest mover on the opening lap, jumping from ninth to fifth before Sebastien Bourdais charged around to take fifth on lap five. Lap seven saw a couple of drivers pit early to go off strategy, chief among them James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan. Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato also were quick to go on an alternate strategy. Alex Tagliani and Justin Wilson would join them by pitting on lap 16, but Wilson's day continued to go downhill as his crew had trouble on the right rear, delaying his stop.
The leaders began pitting on lap 26, with Power, Dixon, and Bourdais the last to do so on lap 29. Power and Dixon emerged in first and second, while Hinchcliffe and Kanaan cycled into third and fourth, with Kanaan making some aggressive passes on Ryan Briscoe and Sebastian Bourdais. Hinchcliffe and Kanaan would soon pit, though, falling back out of the top five. Tagliani had also cycled through to the lead group, running as high as fifth before making his second stop.
Power continued to hold the lead from DIxon as they were followed closely by Bourdais, Franchitti, Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay, and Hildebrand. The rain that had threatened started to sprinkle somewhat on lap 35, but quickly decipated, leaving a dry run during the second half of the race.
The leaders' second round of stops began with 33 laps to go, with Hildebrand and Newgarden the first to peel off. At the same time, Hunter-Reay's engine issues surfaced, with too much fuel being fed into the engine, causing it suffer problems. He nearly brought out the day's only caution late in the race when he got together with Takuma Sato and went into the gravel exiting turn four, but managed to keep it going. Hunter-Reay tried nursing the car to the finish, but the engine eventually gave up with three laps remaining. He finished 24th. "We were positioned pretty well just past halfway. We were catching the leaders while still taking easy and saving fuel," Hunter-Reay explained. "I think we were a third-place car at the worst. Then, the engine just started losing power and it just gradually got worse the longer we tried to run. It finally just gave up there at the end. It died a slow death."
Back up front, Power, Dixon, and Bourdais were again the last of the leaders to pit. However, Dixon's crew shined the brightest, getting him out just before Power. Bourdais held station in third and appeared set to secure his first podium of the year. But, he would eventually go wide on the exit of turn four while battling with Pagenaud, allowing the Schmidt Hamilton driver into third.
As the leaders cycled through their stops, Hinchcliffe and Kanaan again cycled back into the lead before making their final stops. Their strategy work perfectly, though, with Hincliffe exiting in fifth and Kanaan in ninth. Kanaan would climb up to sixth during the final stint as Hildebrand and Newgarden pitted late for splashes of fuel. Also, Dario Franchitti tried passing Hinchcliffe as he exited the pits for fifth. However, they made contact on the back stretch, damaging Franchitti's front wing. He held on as long as he could, but was forced to pit for a new nose with 24 laps remaining.
Back at the lead, Dixon quickly began pulling away from Power and led by more than two-and-a-half seconds as they took the checkered flag, his fourth win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He now sits 28 points out of the lead with three races left. "Twenty-eight points is easy," Dixon quipped. "We gained thirty odd points just on first place today. For us thats big momentum. Big momentum. We are going into three tracks that we can for sure do well at. And I think that we will do well at. We definitely have the crew to do it. Fingers crossed that we can be in the hunt and stay in the hunt until the last race."
Though Power was a little unhappy settling for second, he ultimately was pleased with the result, which put him back in the points lead. "These are such tight pit boxes here and (Dixon) had a clean in. We had a tight in so some of that was me getting in," he said the pit road exchange. "It's hard for the fuel to get in clean because he has to step back from my front wing to swing in. Still it's a very good points day. We're happy to get the Verizon car on the podium. We'll keep chasing after it, we'll get a win here soon and keep going after that championship."
Pagenaud's late-race pass on Bourdais gave him his third podium of the year. "I didn't think (Bourdais) would be that close actually on the braking but I went in really deep and he couldn't make it so it was just enough," he said of the pass. "We were close on fuel. I was saving heaps of fuel on that last stint to finish the race. The car was so good the reds (tires). It was just awesome. It was a really good race, so thanks the HP guys. We made a big, big step forward this weekend and it will be good for Sonoma."
Bourdais' run to fourth was exactly what he and the Dragon Racing team needed. "It was a really good run. The car was really fast. There was a lot of fuel saving, but we're pulling it off," he explained. "I think we could have dared it a little bit more. Both times we could have made it a lot further, and I think that would have been the hot ticket. But, you don't want to be the last one out there if they pull out the yellow and close the pits for any reason. That was a good race, the car was good. We needed the points finish. As much as I wanted to be on the podium, we will take P4 any day."
Hinchcliffe's run to fifth is his best finish since a third-place run at Milwaukee back in June. "That was probably the toughest race of the year running flat out every lap at this track," said an exhausted Hinchcliffe. "I think I had more fun than anyone but (Scott) Dixon. It was like a qualifying lap every lap. We ran some good lap times and I'm just happy to bounce back after what happened in qualifying (qualified 16th)."
WIll Power now leads Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points, with Helio Castroneves 26 points out of the lead in third. As mentioned earlier, Dixon is fourth, 28 markers out of the lead as the series takes two weeks off before heading to Sonoma Raceway for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Full results of the race on Mid-Ohio
Written 08-05-2012, 02:40 pm
Updated 08-05-2012, 07:17 pm
Photography Courtesy of IZOD IndyCar Series / LAT USA
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