Dixon Stomps The Field On Indy Road Course

Scott Dixon finally crossed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course off his bucket list Saturday afternoon. (IndyCar Photo)
Scott Dixon on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – There was a period in Scott Dixon’s career where he was a notoriously slow starter in the early days of a new season.

It wasn’t until the weather warmed up in the summer months that Dixon began to hit his stride.

Perhaps Dixon has discovered the solution – start the season in June.

Dixon won his second-straight race to open the NTT IndyCar Series season on Saturday, conquering the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Dixon also won the season-opening Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6.

The five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion had finished second in the GMR Grand Prix the previous three years. Saturday’s victory was his first on the infield circuit.

Dixon claimed his 48th career Indy car victory in impressive fashion, defeating Graham Rahal by a whopping 19.9469 seconds.

“We got a little bit lucky, but I think it also played into our strategy,” Dixon explained. “We started pretty aggressive, all three Ganassi cars on the black tire, which was definitely pretty tough. We were able to pick up one spot on the start and kind of maintained, and that set us into a pretty aggressive three-stopper (pit strategy), and that’s when our window was to pit. Then, three, four laps later the yellow came out and we were the ones that cycled towards the front.

“It was definitely a little bit of luck there, but honestly it was just the strategy we were on. We had the pace. We struggled at the early part with the rear of the car and the same with the Red tires. I think I went out a little bit too hard on the first set and the rears got abused a little bit and we made several changes to the car throughout the next couple of stops and the car was just on rails after that.

“The track cooled off a little bit and grip came up, and the PNC Bank No. 9 was just strong for the last half of the race.”

Dixon used a brilliant race strategy by pitting on lap 10, getting off the harder Firestone Blacks and onto the softer Firestone Reds. Once on the faster rubber, he was able to use blazing speed to drive through the field.

A key moment of the race came when rookie Oliver Askew backed his Honda into the turn 14 wall for the only caution of the race on lap 36. Otherwise, Graham Rahal’s two-stop strategy was working in his favor. After the race resumed, Dixon was able to speed his way to the rear of Rahal’s Honda because of the team’s early decision to go with three pit stops and fresher rubber.

Scott Dixon takes the checkered flag to win Saturday's GMR Grand Prix. (IndyCar Photo)
Scott Dixon takes the checkered flag to win Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix. (IndyCar Photo)

“I thought the strategy was honestly working perfect,” Rahal said. “Honestly with the two-stop coming out of the pits after the first stop and still being right with Power and Harvey and all the good guys, the guys I was racing at that time, all I kept thinking was when the pits cycled through for the last time, we’d have about a 25- or 30-second lead, but obviously the yellow came out and kind of nullified our strategy because then everybody just got to pit under yellow and then there was just one more to go.

“But obviously Dixie had tremendous pace during the late part of the race. I was on black tires struggling a little bit. The Fifth Third Bank car was great today. I thought our guys did a tremendous job.”

On lap 48, Dixon took the lead when he drove to the inside of Rahal down the frontstraight and held his line going into turn one.

“We were on a flat-out situation,” Dixon said. “The red tires, especially after the last corner, enables you to get quite close and then the big tow, and then overtake is going to be pretty hard to fend off. We were in a really good situation after that caution that enabled us to attack hard.

“We were on the right tires, and ultimately I think the four cars that restarted in front of us were all on blacks and kind of had a little less fuel than us.

“It was a bit of a no-brainer as such. I think as just some of those guys were sitting ducks unfortunately with how the strategy was and the tires they were on.”

After he pitted for the final time and the pit stop sequence recycled, Dixon took the lead for good on lap 62 and drove away from Rahal over the closing 18 laps for the substantial margin of victory.

Rahal’s Honda was second to give that car manufacturer a 1-2 sweep. Three-time GMR Grand Prix winner Simon Pagenaud was brilliant, racing his way from a 20th starting position to a third place. Second year driver Colton Herta was fourth in a Honda with rookie Rinus VeeKay finishing fifth.

Will Power, who started on the pole for the fourth time and was attempting to win the GMR GP for the fourth time, stalled in the pits during his final stop and 20th. Power led a race high 28 laps before the pit road miscue.

Dixon by scoring his 48th victory, the New Zealander is four wins behind Mario Andretti’s 52 for second on the all-time victory list.

“It’s a lot of fun to win these races,” Dixon said. “They are very tough. The competition is crazy and how the strategy can flip. I feel very fortunate when we’re able to pull them off.

“Four wins from Mario is still a long ways. We’ll keep our head down and just keep trying to win races and win championships, and then the rest of it will take care of itself. But each win feels amazing in this series, and again, just feel very fortunate to be able to compete at the top and be with this team and have great partners like PNC Bank and obviously Honda.”

Dixon is already at mid-season form and the season is only two races old. It could be enough to catapult the NTT IndyCar Series legend to a sixth championship in 2020.

“It’s always nice to start strong,” Dixon said. “Maybe in the early years when I was younger, I seemed to start seasons okay, so maybe I need to go back to that.

“It’s amazing to pick up the first two wins of the season, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything. We’ll just keep our head down and try and keep staying up front and trying to get some of those points, and yeah, it’s a great way to start.

“But again, it doesn’t cement anything.”

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