Even while leading GP, Scott Dixon knew ‘we’re going to get hosed here’

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With a 5-second lead and five laps remaining, it’s natural to expect a five-time series champion would feel confident about winning the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Scott Dixon knew better.

“With about 10 laps to go, I’m like, ‘We’re going to get hosed here,’” said the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who led a race-high 39 of 85 laps but still finished second in the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The front tires, I don’t know if we changed the front wing or whatever we did in that pit stop, but we just had no front grip and had to stop the car too much to really keep time.”

Dixon was in command for much of the race after taking the lead on Lap 16 with quite possibly the best pass of the season – a third to first maneuver past teammate Felix Rosenqvist (who started on the pole position) and Jack Harvey.

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After the rain jumbled the field as teams scrambled to adapt to changing weather and track conditions, Dixon retook first on Lap 63. He led the next 21 laps before winner Simon Pagenaud charged past to win by 2 seconds.

Pagenaud quickly began chopping down Dixon’s lead as soon as he passed Harvey for second with five laps remaining, but Dixon knew it was over before that.

“They were giving me lap times, and you could see that (Pagenaud) just had some pretty immense pace,” Dixon said. “Once I knew he got some clear track and once he got past Harvey, I think it only took two laps before he was on top of us.

“It falls off really fast here. It’s a momentum track, and it comes far. So I knew pretty early that we were going to be struggling.”

Even though he had roughly 30 seconds of push to pass remaining (while Pagenaud had none), Dixon was limited in being able to use the horsepower on demand boost as a defense mechanism because he was virtually having to stop his No. 9 Dallara-Honda in the first-gear, low-speed corners in order to turn.

“When you’re doing a 40-mph corner and if he’s rolling five mph faster, the time gets chewed up really fast,” Dixon said. “It’s 5 mph when you’re doing 160 on the straights, nowhere near the same amount. I was trying to use (push to pass) sporadically in spots to try and lessen the pain, but you knew it was coming.

“It was one of those scenarios where you’re either hoping for a yellow or it was going to be a timed race and come up short by a couple laps.”

Monday marked Dixon’s third runner-up finish in five starts this season (as well as his third consecutive in the IndyCar GP), and he moved up to second in the standings, six points behind Josef Newgarden, entering the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

But the momentum was hardly much solace for the defending series champion, who is seeking his second win in the Indy 500 (which he won in 2008).

“Days like this are the days you need to try to capitalize and get the win, and we didn’t,” he said. “So it’s nice to have the performance and nice to run fast, but we’re here to win, and with our team, if we don’t win, then it sucks. But we’ll use this as motivation and hopefully performance wise we’re strong the next couple weeks and then can have a good shot into the 500.”

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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