While Friday certainly wasn’t the day that Scott Dixon and his No. 9 PNC Bank crew had in mind, they will certainly take a 2nd place finish they secured by the end of Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
A two-day event that is rare in motorsport, Friday served as the big practice and qualifications day for Verizon IndyCar Series teams. While Dixon and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Ed Jones started slow in practice one and made a bit of ground up by practice two, they seemingly lost it all when Ed Jones qualified 15th and Dixon was a dreadful 18th.
Overnight, Dixon and his No. 9 Honda team threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at his less-than-stellar machine.
“It was dampers, springs, geometry, cambers… It was pretty much everything,” Dixon explained. “I think we actually threw in a kitchen sink on most of them, too. It was definitely a lot of changes. There was no session we didn’t have a lot (of changes), which is frustrating for us, a team like ours shouldn’t be as lost as we were.
“I think maybe with the test we had here in those really cold conditions we tried to react to that too much, and over a two-day event, it doesn’t really give you much time to sit on it and think about it,” Dixon continued. “We made a lot of knee-jerk reactions, which we should know better. But yeah, it played out well, and ended up finding a bit more pace out of the car, and the result was decent.”
In the morning warm-up, the team saw some positive returns as Dixon paced the short 30-minute session. Many teams discounted the pace as they practiced on scuffed tires while the No. 9 team was on sticker tires.
For the race, Dixon started out on the primary tire compound when the trendy pick was the alternate red-sidewalled compound. Dixon got the required compound out of the way early so he could run on the softer, more grip-filled “reds.”
As the afternoon progressed, the New Zealand native systematically picked off opponents and had moved into the top ten before the midway point.
A late race caution allowed one final set of skins for the drivers although their pace would be challenged by fuel saving orders. Dixon, being one of the best at making lap times while being sparse with the ethanol, jumped Wickens early on in the final run to the checkers and while he didn’t have much challenge for Will Power on this day, few did.
“When Will is in a zone, you’ve got to give the guy a ton of credit,” Dixon said, giving praise to Power after the race. “He’s got a ton of race wins, obviously the pole positions, I think it was like, what, 51 or more this weekend? He knows how to throw a lap together. But when he gets a car that’s good and gets a straightforward race that he can set his mind to, he’s almost untouchable, and today they were definitely fast.
“I think that that whole group, as we know, always does a fantastic job, and Will is a strong competitor, man, one of the best.”
When the dust had settled, Dixon had flipped his weekend and picked up a great points finish that places him fourth in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship hunt.
“Yeah, it was definitely a rough weekend,” Dixon confided. “The heat really seemed to affect our car a lot, especially in practice 2 and then into qualifying, and we threw a big change at it for qualifying, which is probably not the smartest thing to do, and obviously that got us pretty good.
“But yeah, to qualify 18th, I think that’s probably the worst qualifying I’ve ever had on — going for it with a legit not crashing or spinning off. Definitely a frustrating start, but this morning we found quite a bit, I feel like, in the warmup, and then we kind of compromised between what we had found throughout the weekend.
“Big kudos to the team. Everybody on the PNC Bank team did a fantastic job. The pit stops were amazing. In that first stint, I think we were running almost two seconds a lap faster than the rest of the field in the mid 70s for that, and that’s where it made that big jump, and then later on in that segment, too, we were able to pass a few more just on outright speed.”
Also interesting to note: Dixon mentioned that he felt Chevrolet has trimmed the fuel conservation gap that Honda had built recently, and that is something to look out for by the end of this month.
On-track activity will cease for the next two days, and the garages will be closed tomorrow for Mother’s Day. The garage area re-opens on Monday, May 14 and practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 kicks off on Tuesday, May 15.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels.com for the latest on all things IndyCar during the month of May.
Images courtesy of Karl Zemlin/INDYCAR Media.