Dixon battles odds for fifth in IndyCar opener

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2013

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Scott Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi team's cars have some ground to make up.

The New Zealand IndyCar driver completed an excellent damage-limitation job at the season-opening Grand Prix of St Petersburg in Florida yesterday, though team-mate Dario Franchitti had to retire early after a crash, then admitted their cars were not yet up to speed.

Dixon started from way back in 20th on the grid and Franchitti 10th as both the Chip Ganassi Racing cars struggled with handling and speed in qualifying.

It forced Franchitti to be aggressive early, and it cost him when he crashed just 19 laps into the 110-lap race moments after pitting. Dixon, however, managed to find enough speed to climb all the way up to fifth and settle for a satisfactory start to the season.

Team owner Ganassi has grumbled about engine manufacturer Honda's alleged shortcomings, though Franchitti told reporters in St Petersburg the cars had shown improvement from Friday's practice session.

"But we're a long, long way away from where we need to be," he said.

"We have some progress to make on the car and some other areas - a bit of work to do."

Dixon still managed to methodically work his way up the field in a race continually punctuated by yellow flags.

With about 30 of the 110 laps on the street circuit remaining, he had positioned himself nicely in fourth and looked ready to mount a challenge in the final stages.

But he dropped back to sixth and couldn't improve on that, until the final tilt for the line when he edged past Swiss Simona de Silvestro to clinch fifth place and complete a tidy day's work. "Not a bad day . . . could have been a few spots better," Dixon tweeted.

Canadian James Hinchcliffe, 26, claimed his first victory, beating Brazilian Helio Castroneves by about a second.

There was a 16-second gap back to the bunch and it appeared Silvestro would secure third, but she faded in the final couple of laps, allowing Marco Andretti, Tony Kanaan and then Dixon, right on the line, to get past her.

The next race is in Alabama on April 8.

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