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Dixon ready to turn up heat at Indianapolis 500

| Friday, May 25, 2012, 12:38 a.m.
REUTERS
Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon of New Zealand, reacts after qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Friday, May 19, 2012 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon is durable and patient, mentally and physically tough. So the prospect of driving 500 miles amid 95-degree heat during Sunday's Indianapolis 500 doesn't unnerve him.

Besides, he's a triathlete.

If the 200-lap marathon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway becomes a test of will, then Dixon should be in the hunt when the contenders separate themselves from the pack over the final 100 miles.

But there isn't nearly as much certainty about his No. 9 Dallara-Honda, which struggled to generate enough speed during last weekend's time trials to keep pace with the Chevrolets of the top qualifiers, including pole winner Ryan Briscoe.

Dixon will try to get a better feel for his Chip Ganassi Racing entry when all 33 drivers return today to the Brickyard for Carburetion Day. It's the final practice runs and a chance for engineers to improve their race-day setup, which isn't likely to resemble qualifying trim.

Dixon is confident, yet cautiously optimistic in taking on the 2 12-mile oval that humbled him a year ago.

“If you lose your respect for this track, it'll bite you in the butt,” said Dixon, who won the 2008 Indy 500.

But Dixon isn't relying solely on today's practices.

“It was exciting to have an offseason where you were testing a lot,” Dixon said. “In season, you only get six days of testing. I think I did that probably in the first month with the new car.

“For me, it's a change of times. It's a new car, and it requires different things.”

For Dixon, today's practice sessions matter.

He's convinced that better preparation, particularly in gauging fuel data, could have put him a better position to challenge Dan Wheldon for the checkered flag last year after J.R. Hildebrand surrendered a big lead when he crashed in Turn 4 on the final lap.

Dixon led a race-high 73 laps, but a flawed fuel strategy put him in the precarious position of chasing down the front-runners over the last 15 laps. Together, he and teammate Dario Franchitti led a combined 124 laps but had only fifth- and 12th-place showings.

Dixon will be starting 15th, but he expects to reel in the lead pack, in part, because slower cars — including the last row cars of Bryan Clauson, Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi — qualifed with speeds less than 215 mph, nearly 11 mph slower than Briscoe's winning mark of 226.484.

“I don't think we're going to see the race spread out like it tends to sometimes, especially with the slower cars toward the back end of the group.” Dixon said. “I think you're going to see a lot of passing this year.

“What you notice the most is in the short chutes. You turn left and wait. Then, you pick up speed, and that becomes one big turn.

“Hopefully, all our Ganassi cars will adjust quickly to the race. I think it's cool going into the race knowing it won't be anything like qualifying.”

Dixon is hoping the Indy 500 doesn't resemble his disjointed efforts at Long Beach, where he completed on 27 laps, or at Brazil, where another late fuel stop saddled him with a 17th-place finish.

But team manager Mike Hull said Dixon's team has put it together.

“The advantage that we have is the fact that we're a cohesive group of people,” Hull said. “No matter what people on the outside want to try to stir up, internally we work well together.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923

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