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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Mike Hull had a lot to celebrate last weekend at Road America, commemorating his 25th anniversary with Chip Ganassi by guiding Scott Dixon to the race win in the KOHLER Grand Prix.
But it wasn’t without issue. Dixon’s No. 9 NTT Honda crew had to scramble to fix the car during the final warmup practice Sunday morning.
“We had a fuel-pressure issue on the car side of the system,” said Chris Simmons, Dixon’s engineer. “It wasn't a science project as Mike Hull likes to say, we just changed everything to make sure we got it fixed. There were no guarantees. We did everything we could and it all worked out.”
Time was not on the team's side as the crew hurried to complete the fix before the end of the 30-minute warmup, so Dixon could turn at least one systems check lap before the race. Chief mechanic Blair Julian, a fellow New Zealander who has worked with Dixon since 1998, said that, even after the systems check lap, there was no guarantee that the issue was resolved.
“It was a big struggle,” Julian said. “We had an issue in the morning that we had to dig pretty deep to pull the car apart and head out to the race not knowing it was 100 percent fixed. Everyone joined in and helped out. We did our normal Ganassi deal where all the boys came together and helped out.
“We got it right and it paid off with a huge win.”
After getting the job completed, Dixon's car had proper fuel pressure once again. Then he set out to put pressure on the field.
The key moment came on a Lap 30 restart after a caution period for Takuma Sato's crash in Turn 11. Josef Newgarden led but Dixon hit the accelerator, charged up the hill leading to the start/finish line, took the green flag and pulled off a brilliant outside pass for the lead in Turn 1 on the 31st lap around the 4.014-mile permanent road course.
“I opened my eyes afterwards and it was OK,” Hull said.
It proved decisive because, 25 laps later, Dixon was celebrating his 41st career victory, first of the season and his first at this great venue. In the process, he padded his lead in the championship standings to 34 points after 11 of 17 races.
“It means we look at challenges as opportunities,” Simmons said. “For him, it's a big deal. He is climbing up the leader board in wins overall and for the team it's big. We weren't expecting to be that strong here. We did our homework and managed to get everything right today and others didn't. We've lost them that way, too.
“It's a great day for Chip Ganassi Racing. It's a great track, great fans and great to be here. Elkhart Lake is one of the classic tracks. Besides Indy, there aren't (many) places you'd like to win like the classic tracks with all the history and the fans that love the history, so it's wonderful.”
In the end, it gave Hull the 25th anniversary gift he was hoping to celebrate.
“If the plan was to win, then yes it did,” Hull said. “It means a lot and we're doing what we love to do and that is race cars. We do that every week.
“Terrific to do it. I'm sure Scott wasn't thinking about that today. We were just thinking about winning like we always do and it's great to get a win together. We've been knocking on the door for a while; we just haven't knocked the door down, but we did today and that's the main thing. When you win at a racetrack like Road America, it's great.”