Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day 6 -- The Rise of Dixie

Scott Dixon is a quiet guy who doesn't get a lot of pub, and though he has been in front of the microphone more over the last couple of years and is a decent guy, he seems to be happy just doing his work.

Dixon, the 2008 500 champion, drives laps and patiently works on his car, and when go time approaches he shows up ready. So with one more day of practice to go before Pole Day, the New Zealander decided it was time to announce his presence with authority, which he did just before practice closed for the day when he shot to P1 on the speed chart with a lap of 223.088 mph.

Dixon was also the second-busiest driver of the day, turning a total of 88 laps, which was eclipsed only by the 92 turned in by Michel Jourdain. In all the field turned 1,341 laps.

His time knocked Josef Newgarden out of the top spot, as he was bidding to lead the lap charts for the fourth day with a tour of the 2.5-mile oval at 222.709. Newgarden seemed no worse for wear after his spin on Wednesday afternoon, still the only incident we've had this month. (Thankfully)

With Andretti Autosport taking the day off for the most part, it was Honda's turn to shine. At one point they had nine of the top 10 fastest times but at the end of the day had posted the top three times and seven of 10.

Graham Rahal was third at 222.080, Will Power fourth at 221.932 and Justin Wilson fifth with a lap of 221.715. Power, Ryan Briscoe (6th, 221.510) and JR Hildebrand (10th, 221.022) were the only Chevys among the top 10. Still, the competition was tight as the top 24 cars were within .85 seconds of each other.

It was good to see a few new names near the top of the chart, as Power, Wilson and Briscoe were among the drivers who turned their best times of the month. Briscoe is another guy who has been quiet, I was actually surprised to see he had run 290 laps this month because it didn't seem like he's been out all that much.

On the flip side, there are a few drivers that are either struggling for speed or lying in wait. I guess that's up to you to decide. Tony Kanaan has just the 21st best time of the month (220.305) while Ed Carpenter is 28th at 219.095. Rubens Barrichello turned his best lap of the month Thursday at 219.432, just 26th on the grid. Still, Barrichello is being brought along a bit slowly and watching practice today I noticed that his rear wing is still pretty flat, meaning they still have a bunch of that they can take out of the car.

I see Rubens as a Bump Day qualifier who if he is comfortable in traffic will produce a pretty solid showing on race day.

Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge both got their cars on the track, as their Dragon Racing crew was up until 3:30 a.m. installing their new Chevy engines. Bourdais completed both phases of his refresher course on Thursday morning, and Legge made it through phase one just prior to practice starting and knocked out phase two at about 7 p.m. Bourdais was able to complete 21 laps in practice and topped out at 214 mph, while Legge is free to run in practice Friday to complete her third phase.

So here we are...Fast Friday! It should be an interesting day as everyone segues into qualifying trim and looks to see what kind of laps they can turn when the pressure is on. The extra boost should make things even more intriguing, and in a draft its possible to see laps in the 227-228 range. The final hour of practice should be absolutely bananas, as it usually is.

But the best thing about tomorrow? Finally, I will be there! Looking forward to a great weekend in the Social Media Garage. Stop by if you get a chance.

*Of course, I couldn't let today go by...without a mention of Scott Brayton, who was killed in a Turn 2 accident on this day in 1996. His death came just a week after he had won his second consecutive pole behind the wheel of his Lola/Menard V6 (the Buick powerplant that was originally engineered by his father, Lee) with a 4-lap average of 233.718 mph, still the second-fastest qualifying time in history behind Arie Luyendyk.

Brayton was just 37 when he died, but was a veteran of 14 Indy 500s and between 1981-96 made 147 starts on the CART circuit. He started on the front row at Indy three times (1985, 1995-96) and broke the 4-lap qualification record twice (1985, 1996). His best finishes came in 1989 when he started and finished 6th, then matched that finish in 1993 when he came home just seven seconds behind race winner Emerson Fittipaldi.

In all the Coldwater, Mich. native completed 1,905 laps at Indy and led one of them, Lap 15 in 1985. Brayton was a solid driver who between 1989-93 finished 15th in points four times and 12th in another while driving for Dick Simon Racing and at the time competing against some of the best drivers in American open wheel history.

Brayton was a popular driver amongst the fans and his fellow competitors, and to true race fans has been really missed.

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