INDYCAR Photo by James Black
INDYCAR Photo by James Black

Dixon overcomes first-lap spin to finish top-five at Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – All Alexander Rossi needed to win Sunday’s REV Group Grand Prix at Road America was one pass in Turn 2 on the first lap of the race. He went on to defeat Will Power by 28.4391 seconds to win Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series contest.

Scott Dixon’s task, however, was much more difficult.

He started 12thbut was tagged in the rear by Ryan Hunter-Reay in Turn 5, sending Dixon’s Honda in a spin and dropping him 10 seconds behind the field with 55 laps to go.

Undaunted, the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion fought through the “Red Mist” of anger and adrenalin to race his way through the field and put on the real show of the race.

With Rossi checked out of the field and gone, leaving the remainder of his competitors in the Wisconsin woods, Dixon made up the gap, one car at a time. He would make 18 passes in a race that featured 191 passes throughout the field including 175 for position.

At the checkered flag, Dixon fended off a charge James Hinchcliffe to finish fifth – quite a recovery from spinning out and restarting in 23rd.

“It was frustrating, especially when you get turned around and we were almost 10 seconds behind the field at that point and had to catch up,” Dixon told a group of reporters, including NBC Sports.com, on pit lane after the race. “It’s racing, man. We had our problem in qualifying and puts in you in the middle of the pack. We got tapped from behind and it spun us around.

“We tried to make the best of the day, to be honest. Fifth place was pretty good. Luckily, we were at a track where you could use strategy and pass if you have a fast car.”

The 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America permanent road course allows for fantastic racing throughout the field, although there was no competition at the front as Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race. The only lap he did not lead came when Graham Rahal was credited with leading a lap after Rossi made one of his three pit stops.

Dixon’s latest adversity has put him in jeopardy of contending for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship. Dixon is fourth in the standings, but is 94 points behind the leader, Josef Newgarden with seven races remaining.

“We are at a point in the season where we definitely need to make a run,” Dixon said. “When the two leaders are taking all the points, it makes it hard to close that gap. It’s frustrating when you look at the last three races. Detroit was my fault and getting caught up with Colton Herta at Texas and then today.

“It could have been a lot more points we would be sitting on right now. We’ll keep our head down.”

When Dixon spun out, his car was left facing the wrong way, that is what cost him the extra time to get the cars spun in the right direction.

Dixon credits the “Red Mist” with the extra adrenaline he needed to race through the field.

“That sometimes helps, to be honest,” Dixon said. “You don’t think about anything else apart from trying to make up ground. The only positive side is it was Lap 1 and if it had been later in the race, it would have been much harder to recover from.

“That’s just the way it is, man. I got hit from behind. It was a center punch up the rear.”

To score a top-five finish was remarkable for Dixon, and he had to survive one more bit of contact at the end of the race involving James Hinchcliffe.

“He braked a little bit earlier than I thought he was going to,” Dixon said. “I thought he was going to go by Colton. I held my ground on the outside and tried not to get pushed off.

“It was just good, hard racing.

“We really have nothing to lose right now. We are 94 points back. It’s kind of a fun way to race. There’s always enough time to catch up in the points, so let’s see what happens in seven more races.”

Graham Rahal’s ‘Weighty Issue’

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MONTEREY, California – Graham Rahal admits that he can’t wait until the day he doesn’t have to worry about his weight. Being a 6-foot-2, big-boned individual can have its advantages, but not when it comes to fitting into an IndyCar.

That is why the son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar champion Bobby Rahal has begun a body shaping therapy known as “Sculpting” that uses lasers to trim away body fat.

“Honestly, it is no secret, I’m not shy about this, that I’ve struggled with my weight,” the 201-pound Rahal told a group of reporters during INDYCAR’s Open Test at Laguna Seca on Thursday. “I can guarantee you that from a strength perspective and a stamina perspective, there’s very few guys out here that can keep up with me. I’m just not a super skinny build. It’s never been my thing.

“I’ve tried. We’ve kind of looked around. There was some mutual interest from them to look into trying this, see if it works. I’ll be honest. I was always very skeptical of the stuff. Where I’m at, I’ve done one treatment. I can’t even tell you today if it’s something that really works or not.”

That led Rahal to try out the sculpting process that was invented by a doctor who found it with swelling in kid’s cheeks. The “Sculpture” process uses a laser that kills the fatty cells.

“It takes a long time, I think,” Rahal said. “It’s going to take multiple I think to get there.”

Watch Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on NBC at 3 p.m.

A race driver needs to be thin, yet very strong to have the physical strength and stamina to compete at a high level in the race car. When it comes to the NTT IndyCar Series, it’s even more important because of the size of the cars and tight cockpit.

Additionally, the extra weight can impact the performance of the race car. The lighter the driver, the less weight inside of the car. In INDYCAR, drivers are weighed and for the lighter drivers, lead weight is added to the car to meet a requirement.

But in Rahal’s case, the lead weight ballast has to be reduced and that sometimes throws off the center of gravity in the car.

“The facts are it’s not going to work if you don’t work out, too, and eat well,” Rahal said. “It doesn’t do anything. But earlier this year, man, I had given up drinking completely for three, four months. I was working out every day, twice a day on most occasions. I went to a nutritionist, doing everything. I literally was not losing an ounce. It was the most frustrating period of time for me.

“I am the biggest guy here. Is it ever going to be equal for me? No matter what these guys talk about with driver ballast, it’s a whole different thing, where my center of gravity is.”

That is what led the 30-year-old driver from Ohio to study the “Sculpting” procedure. He realizes he is never going to have the metabolism of some of the thinner drivers, but he needs to maintain a weight that minimizes his disadvantage.

“It is a challenge,” he admitted. “Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves (on Penske Team Acura in IMSA) weigh 60 pounds less than me or something. There is no ballast there. That’s a big swing, a lot of weight to be carrying around.

“We have to try anything we can. If you’re going to be serious, try to find the performance advantage and the edge, you’ve got to look outside of the box.

“It is something new for me. But the fight I guess against being an ultra-skinny guy.

“I fly home with most of these guys after races, I see most of these guys a lot of times, they’re sitting there eating In-N-Out Burger, whatever else. Literally I cannot do it. If I do it, it immediately reflects for me. These guys you see them the next weekend, they’re like this big.

“It’s like, (crap), it’s not my build.”

Because of Rahal’s height and size, he chose to step away from the endurance races for Team Penske in IMSA at the end of last season. He was replaced at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring by fellow IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi.

Rahal complained that the steering wheel actually hit his legs inside of the Acura, making it difficult for him to drive on the challenging road courses. Since that time, Acura Team Penske has moved the steering column up by a few inches, and it no longer impacts a driver the size of Rahal.

For the IMSA season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on Oct. 12, Rahal will be back in the Team Penske Acura.

“Back in the (Team Penske) shop three weeks ago, I could actually turn the steering wheel, which I was shocked about,” Rahal said. “My head touched the roof, whatever, I’m used to that. Physically being able to steer, which I now should be able to do better.

“So I’m excited about it. It’s another great opportunity obviously with Penske. But more importantly for me is Acura, Honda. It’s a great thing to be back in.

“But that wasn’t a weight thing. It’s purely size. They just don’t build cars for guys my size. I used to talk to J.W. (Justin Wilson) about that. It’s the facts of life. Even the GT cars. You would think a GT car would be big. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a GT car, I was comfortable in either. They’re built for small guys. That’s the way it goes.”

Rahal is taller than his father, Bobby, who is also his IndyCar team owner along with David Letterman and Michael Lanigan.

“I blame my dad,” Rahal said. “I do. You can tell him I said that. I told him, ‘It’s a genetic thing. I got good genes in some ways.’

“I told my wife this the other day, I’m very excited for someday when my career ends just to have a ‘Dad Bod,’ be able to let go for a minute, see how things turn out, because this is getting a little bit exhausting.

“We’re going to stay committed through the winter. I try my hardest every year, but I never tried harder this year to be thin. I weigh about the same as last year, but it took so much effort to get there, I just have to think outside the box.”