Dixon Peak Performer
June 15, 2003 | 11:01 P.M. EST
Dixon won the 225-lap race under caution in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force after rookie Roger Yasukawa crashed his No. 55 Panasonic ARTA Dallara on Lap 220 on a restart. Yasukawa was unhurt.
It was Dixon's first victory since March 2, when he won the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He had recorded just one top-10 finish, sixth on June 7 at Texas, in four starts since that victory.
"The guys did an excellent job, Team Target," Dixon said. "It's great to finally be back. We've had so many bad races just recently. I'm just having a lot of fun."
Series points leader Tony Kanaan expanded his lead with a second-place finish in the No. 11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara. Kanaan leads second place Dixon, 217-168, in the points after six of 16 races.
It was Kanaan's second consecutive runner-up finish of the season, as he has five top-four finishes in six starts.
"Championship points, staying in the lead, that's all we need," Kanaan said. "I'm tired of being second, so let's win one more. It's always a learning curve. This was my first race here. Good team effort."
2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran finished third in the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara. Dario Franchitti finished fourth in the No. 27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara in his first race since suffering a back injury in a motorcycle accident in early April.
Two-time defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. finished fifth in a stirring drive despite running out of fuel early in the race in the No. 4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara. It was Hornish's first top-five finish of the season and the first top five for a Chevrolet-powered car.
"It was a very fun day today," Hornish said. "We had a lot of things go our way today and not too many things go bad. We put an engine in this morning, and they were having a hard time figuring out what was wrong because the fuel tank said one thing, and the car's computer said another as far as how much fuel we were using. It was a long day, but we did everything we could."
Dixon averaged an event-record 146.210 mph in a race slowed by just four caution periods. He earned $116,400.
It didn't look like Dixon was ready to head for victory lane after the morning warm-up. He turned just two laps during the 30-minute session due to drivetrain problems.
But Target Chip Ganassi Racing made quick repairs to the car. Dixon, who started sixth, showed patience in the first half of the race as pole sitter Kanaan, Marlboro Team Penske teammates de Ferran and Helio Castroneves and Dixon's teammate, Tomas Scheckter, set a torrid pace as the first 100 laps of the race were run under green-flag conditions.
Scheckter led Laps 77-92 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force. But his chances for victory were hurt during a pit collision on Lap 92 with the No. 21 Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Panoz G Force driven by Felipe Giaffone.
The cars collided when Giaffone was leaving his pits - with the fuel nozzle still attached to the car - and Scheckter was trying to enter his pits. Scheckter was forced to return to the track for a lap before re-entering the pits for service. Giaffone was assessed a drive-through penalty for leaving the pits with the fuel nozzle attached to the car.
Dixon took the lead for the first time on Lap 93, during Scheckter's ill-fated first stop. Dixon stayed out front until his first pit stop on Lap 98 and then steadily climbed through the field before taking the lead for good on Lap 142 by passing de Ferran with an inside move in Turn 1.
But it wasn't smooth sailing to the finish for Dixon. The weight-jacker, a device that allows the driver to change the balance of the car from the cockpit, wasn't working. So Dixon was unable to make changes on the fly to alleviate an understeer condition that caused his car to creep toward the outside wall in the turns.
"It was definitely hard once we were by ourselves," Dixon said. "We had a problem with the weight-jacker. We couldn't move the car's weight around to try and help the front end on the long runs. We had to wait until yellows because it was just binding up too much."
Dixon still pulled away to a 6.6-second lead by Lap 210 despite the weight-jacker problem. He appeared to be headed to an easy stroll to victory when rookie Dan Wheldon spun in Turn 4 in the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara on Lap 215, triggering the third caution period of the day.
The field bunched for the restart at the end of Lap 219, and Dixon got a jump on Andretti Green Racing teammates Kanaan and Franchitti, running second and third, respectively. But Yasukawa crashed in the first turn as the leaders raced down the backstretch, ensuring the win for Dixon.
"I think it was going to take Tony a while to get up to me," Dixon said about the restart. "We got a bit of a jump and had a bit of lap traffic there, as well."
Dixon jumped from seventh to second in the standings with the victory. Indianapolis 500 winners Al Unser Jr., Castroneves and de Ferran are tied for third with 167 points, one point behind Dixon.
The next IndyCar Series race is the SunTrust Indy Challenge on Saturday night, June 28 at Richmond International Raceway.