The New Zealander moved to the front in a processional race at the Mid Ohio road course by playing a canny strategic game. But Franchitti minimised the damage by following him home second.
The race organisers chose to start the race on the long back stretch at Mid Ohio rather than the short front race to reduce the chance of the crash. Having done that, it was strange to see them give the green flag when the rolling start was so badly organisers, which almost inevitably led to a crash.
Pole sitter Helio Castroneves made a rapid start and left second place Danica Patrick behind. Team mate Tony Kanaan clipped her, knocking her off the track, then spun into team mate Marco Andretti, flipping the car upside down.
In a total disaster of a start for Team Andretti Green, Dario Franchitti was also delayed. So Castroneves led Scott Dixon, Darren Manning (up from tenth to third) and Franchitti as the race went straight into its first caution period.
The race resumed on lap six and Patrick began her recovery by passing Tomas Scheckter for eighth on lap eight.
The leaders ran in close formation, 1.9s covering Castroneves, Dixon, Manning, Franchitti and Sam Hornish by lap 21. Seven laps later the first of them to pit was Manning, with most of the rest pitting over the next two laps.
Dixon managed to eke out one lap more than those closest to him and so took the lead, with Manning falling back to fifth ahead of Patrick and Dan Wheldon.
Another round of pit stops passed under the caution period but Kanaan and Scott Sharp stayed outvand moved into first and second. Behind that pair was Castroneves, Dixon, Franchitti and Manning.
Sharp worked perfectly as a buffer for Kanaan, who had a five second lead by the time Castroneves, Dixon and Franchitti passed Sharp on lap 54. Kanaan’s lighter fuel load allowed him to extend his lead further, holding a 9.8s advantage by the time he made his last stop under green flag conditions on lap 59.
Wheldon had not run competitively and took the first opportunity to take on enough fuel to reach the end of the race, pitting on the same lap as Kanaan. But with no more caution periods coming before the end of the race, he was unable to benefit from the strategy.
It now became a question of which of the leaders could pit the latest. Castroneves blinked first, pitting on lap 70, and Dixon came in on the next lap – returning to the track ahead of the Brazilian.
Franchitti managed another four laps and was able to take a few tenths off Dixon on each tour, but as he approached his pit stop on lap 75 he was delayed by traffic. When he came out of the pits Dixon had already shot and Franchitti had to follow him home once again.
Dixon took his third win in a row with Franchitti taking second as he did in Nashville. Castroneves made it into the top three for the first time since Indianapolis.
Fourth and fifth were Kanaan and Patrick followed by Manning, who underlined his value to AJ Foyt’s team on the road courses.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was an excellent seventh on his IRL debut ahead of Buddy Rice and Scheckter. Wheldon’s unsuccessful gamble left him tenth.