Scott Dixon used a clever mid-race move to take the lead at Mid-Ohio and then ran away with the race to regain the advantage in the IndyCar Series championship battle.
The victory let Dixon surpass Sam Hornish Jr for most victories under Indy Racing League sanction at 20, although the overall open-wheel career record is the 67 wins held by AJ Foyt. Ganassi driver Dixon also has one win from his Champ Car days.
"To finally be labelled [the driver with most wins] in this series is a big deal to me and a big deal to the team," Dixon said. "But it's going to be tough to hang on to that."
Dixon used Milka Duno's lapped car as a spur to pass Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson on the 37th lap of the 85-lap race, extended his lead when Wilson's sputtering car struggled to re-fire at the next pitstops, and eventually won by nearly 30 seconds over Ryan Briscoe (Penske).
Briscoe had led from pole early on, but Wilson passed him at Turn 10 on the sixth lap and began to pull away. Wilson led through the first cycle of green-flag pitstops before Dixon began to close. As the two approached Duno's slower car in Turn 4 on the 37th lap, Dixon dived inside Wilson and made the pass work.
"He was saving fuel at that point, and I was able to run full rich," Dixon said. "I think we already had him before we ran into Milka. She made it exciting for another couple of corners, but that was about it."
With Wilson then losing a lot of time when his car ran dry coming into the pits for the final time, leaving the Briton a lowly 13th in the final results, Dixon was able to dominate the second half of the race.
His Ganassi team-mate Dario Franchitti battled Briscoe gamely through the final laps, finishing just 0.3s behind. While they were fighting for second place, Dixon was steadily expanding his lead.
"You don't get cars like this or days that go this smoothly very often," Dixon said. "I kept waiting for a yellow to come out at the wrong time and a strategy to screw it up. The last time I had a car this good on a road or street course was last year in Detroit, and with the strategy there, we just got hung out. It was nice to see where the yellows and things fell."
Briscoe said his red tyres fell off on the last stint, and he struggled to keep Franchitti behind him.
"We were dynamite out of the pits on the last stint, and it kept up that way for about four laps," Briscoe said. "Then our lap times dropped off about a second. I was pretty scared because we still had about 15 laps to go. I thought, 'This is going to be terrible if it keeps dropping off.' But after that I was able to maintain a pretty decent lap time. It was good enough that I was able to hold off Dario."
The result leaves Briscoe three points behind Dixon with three races remaining, while Franchitti is 20 points adrift of the leader and keen to get back to winning.
"We have to start finishing ahead of Scott and Ryan," Franchitti said. "Otherwise it's going to get more and more difficult every week. We've got to do that, but you can only do your best every week. The whole team is doing its best. We just need to figure out how to match up the cars to my driving style. That would definitely give us a leg up."
Behind the top three Ryan Hunter-Reay out-raced Andretti Green's Hideki Mutoh for fourth place, the best finish this season by a Foyt Racing entry.
"A fourth for this team right now is a big deal," said Hunter-Reay, who also finished second for Vision Racing in the season opener at St Petersburg in March. "A fourth for me right now is a big deal. We were able to gap the leaders and hold steady with the leaders at the end. We're pretty happy with that."
Marco Andretti (AGR) finished sixth, followed by Paul Tracy, a mid-week replacement for Mario Moraes at KV Racing after the death of the young Brazilian's father. Graham Rahal (Newman/Haas/Lanigan) was running fourth late in the race before brake trouble caused him to lose four positions. He finished ahead of Luczo Dragon's Raphael Matos and AGR's Tony Kanaan, who started eighth but ran off course at Turn 2 at the start and fell to the back of the field.
Briscoe's Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves was only 12th after a spin. Danica Patrick (AGR) was also in trouble, losing several laps due to a tangle with Mike Conway (Dreyer & Reinbold).
Pos Driver Team Time/Gap 1. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1h46m05.7985s 2. Ryan Briscoe Penske + 29.7803s 3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi + 30.0551s 4. Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt + 33.7307s 5. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green + 34.1839s 6. Marco Andretti Andretti Green + 46.7669s 7. Paul Tracy KV + 49.7020s 8. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 50.4517s 9. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon + 51.2286s 10. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green + 52.0810s 11. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas/Lanigan + 52.6215s 12. Helio Castroneves Penske + 53.2362s 13. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne + 53.5768s 14. Robert Doornbos HVM + 1m10.0812s 15. Ernesto Viso HVM + 1 lap 16. Dan Wheldon Panther + 1 lap 17. Ed Carpenter Vision + 1 lap 18. Richard Antinucci 3G + 2 laps 19. Danica Patrick Andretti Green + 2 laps Retirements: Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 69 laps Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold 56 laps