After Friday’s qualifying, Scott Dixon wasn’t down and out but he was way back in the ninth row of the Indy Grand Prix.
“It was the worst I’ve ever qualified without crashing or blowing up,” said the four-time IndyCar champion after qualifying 18th out of 24 in the PNC Honda. “We were nowhere so we had to change everything.
“It was dampers, springs, geometry and cambers. A team like ours shouldn’t be as lost as we were and I think maybe the test we had here in cold conditions, we tried to react to that too much. Over a two-day event it doesn’t give you much time to sit and think about so we made a lot of knee-jerk reactions…we should know better.
Ganassi Racing president Mike Hull added: “We couldn’t create any compliance on Friday and it didn’t matter what we did we weren’t very good. So our engineers had a rethink and we changed everything overnight but the driver.
“In warm-ups we put on sticker tires and worked on fuel mileage and ran as hard as possible to the end. I think our strategy in warmups trend out to be as important as our strategy for the race.”
Dixon posted the fastest lap during the 30-minute warm-up period and then Ganassi’s team parlayed pace, strategy and great pit work.
“The plan was to start on blacks (tires), pit early and bolt on reds,” said the 37-year-old New Zealander.
Hull brought the 2008 Indy winner in on Lap 13.
“The key is to find open track and Scott went back out and started running laps two seconds faster than anyone for 15-16 laps,” said Hull. “We jumped a bunch of people and we got (Alexander) Rossi on the second stop and suddenly we were in fifth.
“We had three great pit stops and Scott did his usual great job of picking people off.”
During the final pit stops on Lap 58, Dixon exited in third place and he smoked Wickens on a nifty Lap 63 pass going into Turn 1 for second spot. He kept winner Will Power honest over the closing laps but couldn’t mount a real challenge.
Asked if the new aero kit presented a challenge finding the sweet spot, Dixon replied: “It’s probably one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in a five- or six-year cycle so that might be a bit of our issue. We kind of got stuck in our ways a little too much; we have a very good engineering group, but it’s stayed the same for quite a long time so maybe we don’t think outside the box as often as we should.
“We definitely did that a lot this weekend which should help us throughout the season.”
And even though he’s yet to lead a lap in 2018, Dixon finds himself fourth in points going into the 102nd Indianapolis 500. If he winds up winning his fifth title, he can look back on this race as a big swing.
“It played out well and we ended up finding a bit more pace and the result was decent,” he said. “Today was a good result but we come here to win.”