By David Morgan, Associate Editor
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – There are only three constants in life: death, taxes, and Scott Dixon finishing in the top-three at Barber Motorsports Park.
For the eighth time in 10 starts at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course, the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, was in the fight for a podium finish, coming home second in Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“All in all, we’ve got to be happy with that,” Dixon said. “It’s always tough competition. We come here to win, but second place, great for points. I think we’re only 27 back now in the championship or something.
“You know, it’s one of those days we were kind of just really in defense mode. We had really good early speed, but if we pushed too hard, the tires were just killed after about 15, 20 laps. A lot of the time was just trying to take care of the tires.”
Starting the day in third, Dixon showed strength throughout the 90-lap event, and aside from pit stop cycles, held steady in the top-three for the majority of the race, even taking over the lead momentarily on lap 37 when eventual race winner Takuma Sato made his second pit stop.
During Dixon’s second pit stop, he noted an issue on pit road that lost him a bit of time and allowed Sebastien Bourdais to get by him on track – a bit of foreshadowing on the battle those two would stage late in the race.
Later in the event, the first and only full-course caution would fly, allowing Dixon to take over the lead once more, albeit briefly.
“On that first pit stop exchange we made some really good gains,” said Dixon. “I made a small mistake on the second pit stop with selecting second gear instead of first, which kind of bobbled us, and then obviously the 18 got in front of us, which kind of — we couldn’t get around him. We were stuck there.
“He was on a slightly alternate strategy. They did a hell of a job, but with that caution coming out on the third one there, it was nice that actually race control left it green and let the field pit. It’s the first time I’d seen that. It’s quite similar to what we see in IMSA and some other series. Obviously it has to be the right circumstances for that to happen, and I think Kyle and everybody up there did a hell of a job to call it that way, otherwise it would have flipped the field and we would have looking a lot worse off.
“But yeah, on that last pit stop there I think Bourdais had put in some more fuel so we were able to jump him, and away we went, and from that point on it was just trying to keep the tires underneath the car.”
As the laps wound down, Sato looked to have the field covered, but with a handful of laps to go, he ran off course through the Turn 8-9 complex, giving the leader a bit of a scare and Dixon a bit of hope that he could finally break through and score his first Barber win.
However, the off didn’t slow Sato down enough to allow Dixon to catch him and he was left to face off with Bourdais in an effort to hold onto second place. Though Bourdais had an abundance of push to pass seconds left, he wasn’t able to best Dixon and the two would finish second and third, respectively.
“I saw it, and I was hoping he went a little further off,” Dixon said with a grin.
“It was his race today. He deserved it. That was the only thing he did wrong, and he caught it. We tried to put pressure on him. It was actually quite tough to get close this year, and I think that’s, again, because the grip level was quite low, so it was really hard to get close.
“And in that situation when I pressured him, my tires went off, and started to back in, Bourdais really charged with about 10 to go and then he made another run with a couple to go. He had a lot of OT and he nearly had us. It was definitely a nail-biting situation for the 9 car there.
“I was obviously hoping to get to that checkered flag and salvage second place, but yeah, it was interesting.”