RACER EXCLUSIVE: SCOTT DIXON ON MID-OHIO
We're celebrating 50 years of racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with personal recollections from some of the racers and events that have made their mark at one of America's finest natural-terrain tracks. This week, Scott Dixon looks back on his decisive victory in last weekend's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. And to learn more about Mid-Ohio's heritage and see more evocative photos from the track's first 50 years, click here to open the free Mid-Ohio@50 digital special!
I'm thrilled that our first win of the season came at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but first, let's be honest – it was just great to finish a race with a result that truly reflected our performance! That's been a rare feeling for us in the No. 9 half of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team this year, where being hit by out-of-control racecars was starting to feel like a way of life…
But this win wasn't just about what we did last weekend. It's a reflection of hard work and good progress from early last month in a test at Sebring, because that was definitely a turning point for us. Dario and I joke about it every year, because no one wants to be at Sebring in the height of summer – 100 degrees and what feels like 100 percent humidity means it's not the most fun test to go and do, I can tell you that. But in the last few years it's turned out to be useful and we've learned a lot. This year, for sure, it was instrumental in how the team has performed since. Look at how consistently quick Dario and I were at Toronto and Edmonton.
And then came the test at Mid-Ohio. That was another huge factor in how we performed all weekend, because during the test we found three or four things that really worked for us – and we ended it five or six tenths quicker than anybody. Heading back there for the race knowing we had an advantage was quite calming in a way and, sure enough, that's how our weekend started. It wasn't obvious in the Friday practice because there was so much traffic we just never got a clean lap together. But on Saturday, everything started falling into place.
Given how close the cars are in terms of lap time, over a 67- or 68-second lap, it felt great to have a quarter-second over Ryan Briscoe and three tenths over Dario and Will Power. We seemed to have it consistently through each session and the red tires really transformed the car. If you look at Edmonton or Toronto, three tenths would have gained you something like eight or 10 places on the grid.
However, I'd never say it was easy, especially not at a challenging track like Mid-Ohio – and trust me, it was very demanding this year. I don't know if it was because of the particular tire compounds and how they were bonding to the track surface, but on initial turn in to the corners, the car felt so loose, it was almost like the track surface was wet! I think that's why you saw some of the usual suspects struggle a lot. People like Helio Castroneves and Mike Conway, who are typically very good on this type of track, were having a hard time.
I admit, my fairly energetic driving style suited the track this year, because it felt like we were constantly fighting the car and that does suit the way I drive. It's a situation where I'd also expect to see Marco Andretti to do well, because he also tends to shine in low-grip situations, but obviously he had other issues in qualifying. But, I can tell you, the fans at Mid-Ohio – and as usual, there were a hell of a lot! – would have loved watching us on the corner exits and over the crests. Man, we were hanging it out!
Once the race started, we pulled a gap, maintained it and were able to save fuel and we were able to save it behind James Hinchcliffe, too. But you've got to make sure you're on the right strategy, too. Look at Briscoe and Power – they just got hosed because they stretched their fuel window and the yellow came out. Unusually for this year, we weren't one of the victims of that bad luck! Having said that, when I saw the yellow just after I'd stopped and knew that Dario had pitted one lap later and would get to the blend line before I came around Turn 1, I thought, “Man! I can't believe it.” I admit, I was definitely steaming at that point. It's a great thing to know how strong your car is on the day, and to feel you can definitely pass the guy ahead if you have to, but on the other hand, it's a tough track to overtake cleanly and in this case it was my teammate…. I just wanted to get the job done as soon as I could so nailing that restart was vital.
I can tell you, considering this was the 50th birthday of the Mid-Ohio track, it feels really special to become the first three-time IndyCar winner there. It's not just any track; this is one of the classics. You can't beat America's long-established permanent road courses, in my opinion, and this is one that hasn't been changed much down the years. Even when you go to a test at Mid-Ohio, it's enjoyable because all the elevation changes and fast corners give it a real nice flow.
Mid-Ohio is also physical to the extent that when it does grip up, it's very high grip, you're pulling a lot of g-loads through the middle section and there's no place to relax. Maybe a little bit out of Turn 1, but then you're already preparing to brake for the Keyhole section; and then a little bit down the back straight, but even there you're ripping off gears, talking to the team or thinking tactics. Mid-Ohio is just one of those places that keeps you constantly thinking or turning!
It's also unique. We cannot assume that just because we went so well at Mid-Ohio that we'll go just as well at the remaining road courses. In 2009, I won there by something like 30 seconds, and then struggled a little at Sonoma, for example. What I can say, though, is that we've made a lot of little changes on my car and taken the setup a little bit further away from what Dario's been doing on the No. 10. We're following our own direction and that's been working for us, especially in qualifying – I think we've started top three in just about every road course this year. So while Mid-Ohio isn't necessarily a good indicator of performance at other road courses, I think it's this transformation in the way we approach each track that will help us a lot.
We're not out of the championship. There are still 300 points left on the table, and we'll do our best to have a crack at it. Obviously Dario's 93 points ahead, which is a hell of a lot to try and pull back, but until you're mathematically out of it, there's no way we're going to give up. Will's a bit more achievable at 31 points ahead, so we can set our sights on that, because a 1-2 in the championship would be amazing for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
If we achieve it, I'll look back at Mid-Ohio as the race that turned our season around. I'm very proud to be the first IndyCar driver to have conquered this special track three times, and it's great to be a part of its 50-year history. Happy birthday, mate!