Dixon Claims First Win of Unified IndyCar Era
The statistics make it appear simple. It was anything but.
Starting from the pole, Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon won Saturday night's season-opening Gainsco Insurance Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, going into the record books as the first victor of the newly-merged IndyCar Series, which has assimilated teams and events from the former Champ Car World Series to create a unified American open-wheel series for the first time in 13 years.
In fact, while Dixon led three times for a total of 67 laps, it was Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan who appeared headed for Victory Lane when, while holding a 2.11-second lead over Dixon with just seven laps remaining, he was unable to avoid the spinning car of rookie Ernesto Viso. The pair made contact in Turn 4, damaging the right front suspension of Kanaan's car and ending Viso's race on the spot.
Kanaan carried on for another half-dozen laps under caution, seeking to gain as many championship points as possible, but was forced to pit and retire shortly after the field went green for the final time on Lap 196.
The merger of the two major open-wheel racing series, announced just last month, resulted in the largest starting field for either series in the last several years. Five teams and nine drivers from the Champ Car World Series have elected to take part in the combined series, along with nine IndyCar Series teams and their 17 drivers. Additional entries are expected later this season and at the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Unfortunately, the Newman Haas Lanigan Racing entry of Graham Rahal was withdrawn after a crash in practice earlier this week, while both three-time Homestead race winner Dan Wheldon and rookie Jay Howard were forced to start from the rear of the field after crashing during their qualifying runs on Friday night. In addition, the Vision Racing entries of Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt IV were moved to the back of the starting grid after failing post-qualifying technical inspection.
Dixon, Kanaan and Marco Andretti all took turns at the front during the first half of the 300-mile contest, while Wheldon, seeking his fourth consecutive Homestead victory, worked his way through the field to also reach the lead group. Helio Castroneves also featured briefly at the front, but faded before midrace and would finish fourth, last car on the lead lap.
Following the final round of pit stops on Lap 173, Kanaan emerged at the front of the lead train, and steadily built his advantage over Dixon, while Andretti pulled out a similar two-second margin over Wheldon. Then Viso, who had just exited the pits, lost control entering Turn 3 in front of the leaders. Kanaan clipped the spinning HVM Racing car with his right front wheel, ending his chance of victory in his adopted hometown of Miami.
The 2008 IndyCar Series now crosses the state of Florida for the April 6 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first road/street course event of the 18-race season.
Scott Dixon (#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, his third IndyCar Series win at Homestead Miami Speedway and 11th career win: "Tonight was a tough race. Our car would run very well at the start of each stint, but the handling would go off later into the run. But at the end, we all had just pitted and I thought we were catching Tony [Kanaan] a little bit. Catching TK and passing him are two entirely different things, but it would've been interesting! It was a shame he went out of the race in that fashion, but we came through for the win. With Dan [Wheldon] having a great drive to finish third after his crash last night, it was a fantastic night for the entire team."
Marco Andretti (#26 Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 4th, finished 2nd: "Finishing second has definitely created a sense of accomplishment for our team. We did a little bit of 'redeeming ourselves' tonight. We struggled here so badly last year, and at several other ovals, that it became the primary focus of our attention in the off-season. I worked all winter long with [engineer] Eddie [Jones] to improve our big-oval performance, and the result was a fast, very stable and predictable race car. It's just a great way to start the new season."
Erik Berkman (President, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "It was good to see so many cars out there tonight. I thought the expanded field worked well together, considering the varying levels of oval-track experience and the unfamiliarity with the equipment. Getting to the first race of this season was a big challenge for the associates at HPD and our technical partner Ilmor, especially considering the additional test days that were scheduled following the announcement of reunification. But as expected, the Honda HI8R Indy V-8 performed flawlessly and preliminary reports are that the 2008 updates, paddle shifting and the return of the fuel-mixture control, all worked as expected."
-credit: honda racing