Scott Dixon wins 2008 Indy Car season opener
Polesitter Scott Dixon won the GAINSCO Auto Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Saturday night in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda. He goes down in the record books as the first driver to win an IndyCar race after the merger of Champ Car and the IRL. It was Dixon's 11th career Indy Car win and it gave car owner Chip Ganassi his 2nd win of the day, having also won the Grand-Am race earlier in the day.
The victory is a reversal of fortune for Dixon, who finished second in the 2007 IndyCar Series championship after running out of fuel while leading on the final lap of the season finale at Chicagoland.
Dixon was able to take the lead when Tony Kanaan sustained damage while in the lead when Ernesto Viso’s car spun on Lap 193. The right front corner of Kanaan’s car made contact with Viso’s car, damaging the car. Kanaan remained on the track during the caution period, but couldn’t race at speed when the green flag dropped and he eventually finished eighth.
Andretti, who led a race-high 85 laps, finished second 1/2-second behind, tying his career-best mark on an oval.
Dan Wheldon, who came all the way from the back after crashing in qualifying, Helio Castroneves and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top-5.
Andretti was happy with a 2nd place finish.
"We have been working hard in the off-season and we're thinking points this year so we're happy to start the season with a 2nd place."
Before a crowd estimated at around 20,000, polesitter Scott Dixon led the early laps over Danica Patrick until Tony Kanaan passed them both to take the lead on lap 13.
On lap 21 Dixon got back around Kanaan during the first caution for debris. Meanwhile Dan Wheldon was moving up fast from the back of the grid, clearly the fastest car on the track at that point of the race.
Marco Andretti led laps 81 through 117 (and again 122 thru 160) of the race after making a daring pass around the outside of Dixon in Turn 4.
"It was close," said Dixon. "I was loose on new tires and if I turned the wheel any further I would have spun out. I was sliding up the track, and I could not believe there was enough room up top for him to get by, but it all turned out well. It was a great move by Marco."
On lap 127 the 2nd caution flag came out when Milka Duno lost control of her car in Turn 1 and collected Ryan Briscoe who was passing on the high side. Although Briscoe's day ended early he was credited with the race's fastest lap at 213.308 mph.
Marco Andretti led with just 40 laps to go when he bobbled slightly and his Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan swept past.
Then with 27 laps to go Kanaan gave the lead back to Andretti when he pitted for his final pit stop. Andretti pitted one lap later and Scott Dixon took the lead.
When all the stops were completed Kanaan was back in the lead over Dixon and Andretti, a spot that he appeared he would hold to the finish. However, rookie Ernesto Viso crashed with 7 laps to go and leader Tony Kanaan just clipped him with his right front as he tried to dive below him.
Kanaan stayed out during the caution running at the front of the field with high right-front wheel assembly laying almost flat on the track. However, when the green flag flew with 3 laps to go the field swept past with Dixon in front and Marco Andretti 2nd.
Dixon held off Andretti for the win.
Although it appeared Kanaan was headed to victory, in fact Dixon was catching Kanaan at a fairly good clip.
"We set our car up with less downforce than most cars on the grid," said Dixon. "It wasn't an easy car to drive but we were fast and it would have been close at the end had we gone green all the way."
Dixon also gave credit to the transition teams and drivers who he said stayed out of the way most of the night. He also said not to expect too much from the transition teams just yet because they have not had much time with the equipment, but he thought that by Indy they would begin to figure it out.
"Therefore, next year will be the first real championship of the merged series," said Dixon.
Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared destined for a 5th place finish, but unfortunately when the green flag waved with three laps to go, Kanaan had no chance to go any faster than his previous pace car speed, which bottled up the field roaring off of Turn Four. Much of the field checked up, Hunter-Reay went to the high side of Turn Four as he tried to avoid the glut of cars forming in front of him, and by the time he was able to get sorted, Patrick and Carpenter had gotten by. Hunter-Reay fought back on the last two laps but could not make up the ground, but did get one spot back at the flag when he passed Kanaan’s wounded vehicle, earning a seventh-place finish.
“We had a fifth-place finish in the bag and got robbed on the last restart,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “We went through this in the driver’s meeting and I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it killed our race. We really had a good rhythm going today and the car was strong, but we didn’t get the points we deserved for it.”
There were 12 lead changes among 5 drivers and 3 caution flags for 24 laps. The winner averaged 171.248 mph.
The series now heads to the St. Petersburg street circuit next weekend.
Winner's average speed: 171.248 mph
Time of race: 1:44:03.5914
Margin of victory: 0.5828 of a second
Cautions: 3 caution flags for 24 laps
Lead changes: 12 among 5 drivers
Lap leaders: Dixon 1-12, Kanaan 13-20, Dixon 21-71, Wheldon
72-73, Andretti 74-117, Wheldon 118-121, Andretti 122-160,
Kanaan 161-172, Andretti 173-174, Wheldon 175-177, Castroneves
178-181, Kanaan 182-196, Dixon 197-200.
Point standings: Dixon 50, Andretti 43, Wheldon 35,
Castroneves 32, Carpenter 30, Patrick 28, Hunter-Reay 26,
Kanaan 24, Foyt IV 22, Meira 20.
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished first): “It was one of those races where we didn’t exactly have the speed all the time, or things weren’t really going our way, but we still came out on top. If you can have races like that, where you have a bad day, or a day where you don’t think you’re at your best, and you still come out on top, that’s a great way to take some points away from others and hopefully it works for the rest of the season.”
“We had a couple of stints there where it was nearly nonstop without a yellow. I thought there were going to be a ton early on. In our team meeting, we were sort of scheduling for quite a few stops early on, but that just didn’t come. I think everybody was really using their heads. The guys who came in from Champ Car were fantastic. They were giving everybody room and they drove a great clean race.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE, finished second): “We started out pretty good. We really focused on the race car balance, starting in the offseason when we were testing. I think my engineer and I did a very good job to come up with a setup that works at a place like this – the race car, rather than the qualifying car. The guys were awesome in the pits. The tires were unbelievable. Honda was awesome. It was a good day.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, finished fourth): “The Team Penske car handled really well tonight, but we just didn’t have the speed that the top few guys had. Thankfully, we were able to stay out of trouble and bring home a solid fourth-place finish. The championship is our ultimate goal this year, and we were able to score some valuable points today. We’ll look to build on that next week in St. Petersburg when we try for three in a row there.”
DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, finished third): “To be honest, it probably wasn’t me. The car was obviously very good. The other people on the track were very respectful. I think they knew I had a fast car. To tell you the truth, I think every time I came up behind somebody and they knew I was quicker, they made it comfortable for me to pass. From that standpoint, I certainly appreciate what they did. From a car standpoint, we were phenomenal on a long run, but on the short run we weren’t quite as quick as we’d like perhaps. We seemed to just lose a little bit on that last start. To finish third after a difficult day yesterday, I think these are good points in the bank.”
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Menards/Vision Racing, finished fifth): “It was a tough one. That was one of the weirdest Homestead races we’ve had. It seemed like everyone’s pace was really dropping off towards the end of a run on tires. It made it really difficult to keep your car good from beginning to end. By the end of the race, I was pretty happy with the balance I had with the car from start to finish of the run.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol, finished seventh): “We had a fifth-place finish in the bag and got robbed on the last restart. We went through this in the driver’s meeting and I don’t know exactly how it happened, but it killed our race. We really had a good rhythm going today and the car was strong, but we didn’t get the points we deserved for it.
“The guys did the right things with the car all day and as a team, I think we really performed well tonight, especially in the latter half of the race. I thought I drove a pretty good race and the team gave me everything I needed to compete with the big teams. We’ll take this finish and head out looking to do better next weekend.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, finished eighth): “I’ve been around a long time, and the race is not finished until the checkered flag. This was a misfortune – yes. But, how many times have I won races because some other guy was unlucky? With 10 laps to go I was looking around and I was thinking, ‘This looks too easy.’
“When somebody spins and he’s doing 230 miles an hour, you’re like, ‘Where should I go?’ I slowed down. He was on the bottom, so I went to the top. Then, all of a sudden he started to go to the top and I was trying to go to the bottom, so there was nothing I could do about it.
“The way I look at it, this is right where I finished here in 2004, and we know the way that year turned out.”
A.J. FOYT IV (No. 2 Vision Racing, finished ninth): “Starting the race from the back obviously made it a lot more difficult to try and get around the slow cars and the cars I've never raced with before, but once we got going the car wasn't too bad. It lacked a little overall downforce and it wasn't great, but we managed to come out of here with a top 10. So we'll learn from this and work on getting better and moving up as the season continues.”
DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Motorola, finished sixth): “What a frustrating night. I thought our Motorola car was going to be a strong car, but we just never found a setup that was going to be able to compete like we wanted it to. We need to put this behind us and move on so we can be ready for next week.”
VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi National Guard, finished 10th): “This finish is about what we expected in the Delphi National Guard car coming into the day. We knew we would have work to do during the race. We had a few problems and the car was really loose during some of the early parts of the race and that hurt us most. I could run really well by myself, but it got loose in traffic and I couldn’t keep it behind other cars. Everybody at Panther is glad to head to St. Pete with a top-10 finish, and our car has always been really good there, but we will be fighting for more positions because the guys from Champ Car will be running up front there.”
BRIAN BARNHART (President Operations and Competition, Indy Racing League): “It wasn’t what I expected in terms of how we have raced here. It seemed people were more comfortable up top and faster up top. That’s not what we have done around here the last two or three years. The preferred line in the past, especially when you come up to pass or lap people, has been to tell them to go high and I want to run the bottom and everyone fought for the bottom of the race track. Today, everybody was asking for the slower cars to be at the bottom but they seemed more comfortable and faster up top. It kind of changed the dynamic of the race a little bit from that standpoint. The first 50 laps was a struggle with some guys working their handling and getting up to speed. I think everybody eventually did a good job. It’s a steep learning curve obviously and most of them got the better part of 200 laps in and did a good job all evening long.”
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