Hunter-Reay Sets Pace at Mid-Ohio Practice in Chase to Catch Dixon

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via IndyCar.com

LEXINGTON, Ohio – The hunt to chase down Scott Dixon for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series points lead begins in earnest this weekend at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

Several drivers close to Dixon in the standings took the first step by turning laps quicker than the Chip Ganassi Racing driver in the second of two practices on Friday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, fourth in the standings after 12 of 17 races, charted the best lap of the day at 1 minute, 5.1950 seconds (124.684 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda. Will Power, fifth in points, was second quick for the day in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:05.3371).

“Not having tested here, I'm pleasantly surprised,” said Hunter-Reay, whose team elected not to participate in private team testing at the 2.258-mile permanent road course last week. “I thought we would be on the back foot a little bit for Day 1 and a little bit for Day 2. The team did a good job coming back here preparing for it.”

In addition, Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport (third in points) posted the fifth-best lap of the day in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (1:05.4526). Dixon ranked eighth on the combined timesheet from Friday’s practices with a lap of 1:05.6063 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.

“I think we made a gain here and there, but we're kind of in a box that's not really working,” Dixon said. “I think we need to kind of shift the program in general maybe for tomorrow morning and see if we can make it a little easier to drive and get a little bit of performance out of it.

“We definitely have a lot of work to do,” added Dixon, who holds a 62-point advantage over Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden as he seeks a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series title. “We have good points right now, but it doesn't guarantee you anything, either. As we've seen in the last sort of couple races, it can flip and change pretty quickly.”

The two practices were incident-filled as drivers, using the 2018 Indy car with the universal aero kit for the first time on a race weekend at Mid-Ohio, came to grips with the flowing, technical circuit. There were five red-flag stoppages of practice for cars going off track or spinning – Power and Newgarden among them – with numerous other instances of cars spinning or sliding off track and continuing.

Hunter-Reay, 91 points behind Dixon, attributed the rash of incidents to the lower downforce generated by the new car and drivers pushing those cars to their limit.

“Guys are trying to figure out what they can get away with,” he said. “Once you get off line a little bit, it's just gone; there's nothing bringing it back. It's tough to really figure out what you can get away with here.

“You're relying on the downforce. Once you get it into the yaw at a certain angle, you're dumping all that air off the wings. It does give you a little bit more warning than the previous car did, no doubt, but right now we're just dealing with a low-grip situation. Like I said, sometimes Mid-Ohio is that way. I think we're dealing with a lot less downforce and a pretty finicky Mid-Ohio racetrack at the moment.”

Ohio native Graham Rahal, back at the home track where he won in 2015, was third for the day in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda (1:05.4141), with Spencer Pigot fourth in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet (1:05.4312).

The final practice session of the weekend begins at 10 a.m. ET Saturday and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.comyoutube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying is set for 1:30 p.m. and airs live on NBCSN.

Live coverage of Sunday’s 90-lap race begins at 3 p.m. on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network with a same-day encore telecast at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN.

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