1. IZOD IndyCar Series fresh engine update
2. Dixon rounding into title-winning form
3. Servia returns to Panther for Mid-Ohio
4. Rahal's helmet to honor Hanna
1. Dixon rounding into title-winning form: In 2003, a 22-year-old Scott Dixon won three races and, despite five DNFs, earned his first IZOD IndyCar Series championship with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Wiser and more experienced in 2008, Dixon again claimed the series title punctuated by his first Indianapolis 500 victory.
Now five years later, Dixon has won the last three IZOD IndyCar Series events and is aiming for his third win in a row at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Is there a five-year championship pattern developing? Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, would like to believe so.
A perennial contender who finished third in the 2012 standings, Dixon has vaulted to second in the championship courtesy of a win at Pocono Raceway and his double-header sweep at Toronto. He's 29 points behind Team Penske's Helio Castroneves heading into the Aug. 4 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, a race he's won four times overall.
Prior to the July 7 race on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway tri-oval, he was seventh in the standings (92 points arrears).
"We don't intentionally start the season bad, though we typically seem to somehow," said Dixon, who has won at least one race in nine consecutive seasons. "It's so competitive. With how many different race winners we've had this year, the points are jumbled up, people have made strides at different points in the year.
"I suspect there's going to be four, five, six people that are going to be fighting for it at the end of the year. Hopefully we're one of them. Hopefully we dig deep enough and maybe it goes our way."
Dixon, who earned his 32nd Indy car victory just ahead of turning 33 on July 22 to move into seventh on the all-time list, might just be reaching his prime. He's also made 150 consecutive starts.
"Racing is still in my veins and hopefully my career is a long one and something that I can enjoy for a long time," he says. "As you go on through your career, you have good races, bad races, lots of ups and downs. You cherish Indianapolis 500 victories and championships a lot more. I don't know whether you know you won't do it in 10 more years or what but the drive is still there. I still wake up every morning wanting to go to the track and race cars and hopefully win some more races.
"I think the championships in 2003 and 2008 -- there were five years in between -- that the ups and downs make you realize it's not that easy to win races."
Following the victories at Homestead, Pikes Peak and Richmond (the latter back to back), Dixon posted six top-five finishes - including five runners-up - in the final nine events of the 16-race season.
"In 2003, it was a strange deal - the first time I ever ran an all-oval series," he recalls. "It's fair to say I was a little reluctant to start with but also very young. I didn't really know what I had achieved at that point. It was still a hell of an accomplishment."
Dixon dominated in 2008 with six victories and leading 11 of the 17 races (899 of total 2,860 laps). He led 115 of the 200 laps in the Indianapolis 500 in winning from the pole.
"2008 was an all-around great year," Dixon adds. "We won six races, won the Indy 500. It was one of those dream years. For me to look back at that stage in my career it was very cool to look back and see what we had achieved that year.
"It's strange to have championships that far apart and look at the differences and see how you were different at those times."
2. IZOD IndyCar Series fresh engine update: INDYCAR is providing an update today regarding the status of fresh engines remaining for each team for the remainder of the IZOD IndyCar Series season. The update can be viewed and downloaded by clicking the following link. FRESH ENGINE UPDATE
3. Servia returns to Panther for Mid-Ohio: Oriol Servia will return to the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.
The Spaniard will make his third start of the season for Panther and his ninth at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (six top-10 finishes). He last drove the team's car at Iowa Speedway on June 25 (finished seventh). He'll participate in the Open Test on July 31.
"Iowa was my last race, and while I love ovals I'm really looking forward to getting back on a road course," Servia said. "Mid-Ohio is a very technical track and a (road course) specialist track, but I feel like everybody in our paddock is becoming a specialist because there are so many strong guys out there. We have a test day before the race that will be a big help for us fine-tuning the car, and especially for me to knock off a little rust. I'm looking forward to being competitive this weekend and there's no reason why we shouldn't be."
Servia's best finish at Mid-Ohio was fifth place in 2008 while driving for KV Racing Technology. He finished 10th in the No. 22 Panther DRR car last August.
"Oriol's part of our family so it's very seamless for the National Guard crew to get him back in the No. 4 car," Panther owner John Barnes said.
Ryan Briscoe drove the car in the first race of the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader but suffered a fractured wrist that continues to heal following surgery July 15. Firestone Indy Lights championship points leader Carlos Munoz drove in the second race.
"We didn't want to rush Briscoe back from surgery and obviously Oriol is a great IndyCar driver and does a phenomenal job working with our crew," Barnes added. "The test day on Wednesday will be a big help and we're looking forward to a great weekend with our friends from the Ohio National Guard."
4. Rahal's helmet to honor Hanna: Graham Rahal will use a specially designed helmet in his home race at Mid-Ohio to honor his godfather, animal expert Jack Hanna.
Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, will be the grand marshal of the IZOD IndyCar Series race on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio road course Aug. 4.
"I am so honored to have been invited to attend the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. I have known the Rahal family for almost 30 years and am so proud of my godson, Graham. He has done so much to support the Columbus Zoo, and I can't wait to come to the track to cheer him on," Hanna said.
Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course have partnered to offer special Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio race tickets with partial proceeds benefiting the zoo in honor of Hanna's 35-year association with the Columbus (Ohio) Zoo and Aquarium.
The tickets include free zoo admission, an autographed Rahal hero card and an entry to win a VIP experience at the track and zoo. Ticket information is available at midohio.com/zoo.
Additionally, Rahal will auction some of his race-worn gear, including the special "Jungle" Jack Hanna helmet, to the zoo to auction.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 4 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race will be televised live at 3 p.m. (ET) by NBC Sports Network and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smartphones and tablets. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Mid-Ohio 100 on Aug. 4 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 2 p.m.