SPEEDWAY, IN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon picked up his 48th career win by taking the checkered flag in Saturday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES GMR Grand Prix on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s so good to be back here racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Dixon, a 5-time Series Champion. “We’ve had so many runner-up finishes on the road course it was just nice to win one.”
Dixon, who finished second in the event the past three years, beat Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal by 20-seconds to pick up back-to-back wins to start a season for the first time in his illustrious career.
“It’s amazing to be able to pick up the first two wins of the season,” said Dixon. “But it doesn’t guarantee anything. We’ll just keep our heads down, we’ll keep trying to stay up front and get some points. It’s a great way to start but it doesn’t cement anything.”
Dixon is now 4-wins behind the legendary Mario Andretti (52 wins) for second place on the all-time INDYCAR wins list. A.J. Foyt is the all-time wins leader with 67.
“It’s amazing to be in the same conversation as these people,” said Dixon. “I remember looking back and watching races of Mario when I first came to America in 1997 and watching races of A.J. Foyt. They’re legends of the sport. I just feel lucky to be doing what I’m doing. It’s not just me. It’s the team behind us, it’s the partners like PNC Bank, it’s Chip, it’s Honda, it’s hundreds of people that make it possible so I just feel very special to be a part of it.”
Rahal’s 2nd place finish in the Fifth Third Bank Honda tied his best finish at the Indy GP which happened back in 2015.
“The Fifth Third Bank car was great today,” said Rahal. “I thought our guys did a tremendous job. Dixie had tremendous pace in the mid part of the race. I was on black (Firestone Primary) tires struggling a little bit. For our team after Dallas this feels really good.”
Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud finished third after starting deep in the field in the 20th position.
“Yesterday was not the day we wanted in qualifying,” said Pagenaud, who won last year’s GMR Grand Prix. “We unloaded well and went in the wrong direction. It was a negative for a positive because I think it sets us up this season really early on knowing what we need for the car. We weren’t totally happy when we started the race and we adjusted the car and it got better and better.”
Pagenaud’s Team Penske teammate Will Power started on the pole position and led the first 18-laps when the team decided to scrap plans for a 2-pit stop strategy after other teams decided that abandon that same strategy for 3-stop efforts.
Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey, who started second, inherited the lead until his pit stop on lap 19.
Rahal, who started fourth and moved up to third place by turn one, took the lead at that point and stuck with a three-stop strategy and reeled off quick laps until his first stop on lap 26.
Power regained the lead after the remainder of the cars on the two-stop strategy pitted for service.
Midway through the race a number of drivers on the three-stop strategy hit pit road for their second stops. Shortly thereafter Arrow McLaren SP’s Oliver Askew lost control coming onto the front stretch and smacked the wall hard bringing out the first caution of the race on lap 36.
“Really unfortunate,” said Askew, the 2019 IndyLights Champion and a rookie in NTT INDYCAR SERIES competition. “Unacceptable to have a result like that to be honest. I just lost the rear of the car. It was towards the end of my stint so the rears (tires) were starting to go away and it just really caught me off guard.”
Power and everyone who had not made their second stop hit pit road during the caution period on lap 39.
Several drivers including Rahal, Citrone-Buhl with RLL’s Spencer Pigot and Dixon stayed out.
“We started on the black tires and that sent us on a pretty aggressive 3-stopper,” explained Dixon. “That’s when our window was to pit and then three or four laps later the yellow came out and we were the ones that cycled to the front. Definitely a little bit of luck there and it hung out the leaders for sure but we had the pace.”
Rahal led the field back to green on lap 40 with Pigot, Conor Daly and Dixon closely behind.
On lap 42, a frustrating start to the 2020 season for Andretti Autosports Alexander Rossi continued as he suffered a mechanical issue forcing and end to his day. Rossi’s car failed to start at the beginning of the season opener at Texas where he eventually rallied to a 15th place finish.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Rossi. “We just lost power when we started trying to get going again. I think it potentially is a fuel pressure issue. We’ve had a couple of fuel pressure gremlins throughout the weekend. It’s a shame to have two of these weekends in-a-row.”
Dixon got around Daly on that same lap to move into third place with Colton Herta in tow. Dixon passed Pigot on lap 45, trailing Rahal by just under one second, so the battle of the banking sponsors was on.
Three laps later Dixon passed Rahal on the front stretch to take the lead. Dixon quickly built a five-second lead in just two laps, up to 8-seconds after nine laps and 9.3-seconds after ten laps.
Rahal hit pit road for his final service on lap 55 along with Pagenaud.
Dixon brought the No. 9 Honda to pit road a lap later, coming out in ninth place after service by his “Wolfpack” crew.
Pigot and Herta hit pit road for service a lap later and the pair came out in 13th and 14th respectively.
Josef Newgarden inherited the lead through that pit stop cycle and stayed out front until lap 62 when he came to pit road, giving the lead back to Dixon.
Dixon kept the hammer down, building a lead of over 15-seconds with ten laps to go in the race, 18-seconds with seven laps remaining, 18.7 seconds with five laps remaining, 19.5 with three laps to go and 20-seconds with one lap to go.
With Dixon checking out, the battle was on for second place between Rahal and Pagenaud with Rahal prevailing.
The most drama for Dixon and the entire PNC team were off-track excursions by Andretti Autosport drivers Marco Andretti and Zach Veach, who both cruised through the grass with less than five-laps remaining, however both were able to get back on track without brining out a caution.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES heads to Road America next weekend for a doubleheader on the scenic, natural terrain road course.
Josef Newgarden tops first INDYCAR practice as Laguna Seca
MONTEREY, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden is starting INDYCAR Championship weekend off on the right pedal by leading the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session on Friday.
Newgarden’s No. 2 Hitachi Chevy turned a fast lap of 1 minute, 11.4103 seconds (112.824 mph) around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course circuit with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta second-quickest at 1:11:8266 (112.170) in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
“Yeah, just a tricky session,” noted Newgarden. “There was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together. So not a very straightforward session. But I think very productive in a lot of ways. It’s not a lot of running, and you’re trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that.”
Championship-leader Will Power was 7th quickest, 1:11:9858 (111.922) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy. Power leads Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon by 20-points heading into Sunday’s season finale.
“Tough track, man,” said Power. “Very low grip. You get one lap on tires, and they’re gone. It’s hard to get a read because the car changes so much over a run.”
Championship contender Marcus Ericsson was tenth fastest in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:12:0803 (111.775) and trails Power by ??-points in the title fight.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-deg (tire degradation) race, and it seems to be that way,” said Ericsson. “Usually our team and myself from my experience, we’re usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tires seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice.”
Last weekend’s winner Scott McLaughlin was next in line with a 1:12:0877 (111.764). McLaughlin has an outside shot at the title as he sits ??-points behind Power.
Dixon, the six-time series Champion, was 17th in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda at 1:12:3911 (111.295) despite a team test at the track a few weeks ago.
“It’s going to be a pretty high-deg race, man,” said Dixon, who can tie INDYCAR Legend A.J. Foyt for all-time Championships with a seventh.
Determined drive by Scott Dixon in Portland earns podium and shot at 7th Championship
PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon is in the fight for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship after a third place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.
Dixon entered the race in third-place in the Championship fight, 14-points behind Team Penske’s Will Power and 11-points behind Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden. Dixon leaves Portland tied with Newgarden but Power finished ahead of both and now sits 20-points ahead going into the season finale on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.
“Yeah, you know, still in it,” said Dixon. “That’s all that we can hope for.”
Dixon started the race from the 16th position after failing to advance out of the first round of knockout-style qualifying on Saturday. Qualifying has been a bit of an ‘Achilles heel’ for the No. 9 this season.
“We’ve got to work on qualifying and stop making it so difficult on us,” reflected Dixon, who gained more positions (+13) than anyone in the field from the start to finish of the race. “The car was fantastic in Q1 on the box. Didn’t expect too much of a change and thought we would have converted easy and didn’t even make it. We have to stop doing these most improved days, for sure. It’s not that much fun.”
Dixon opened the race on the less-grippy Firestone primary tires while the majority of those starting ahead of him started on the stickier Firestone alternate tires and quickly moved up a couple of spots before being one of the first to come to pit road for his first pit stop on Lap 13.
Dixon’s No. 9 ‘Wolfpack’ crew swapped out the primary tires for the alternate tires, topped the PNC Bank Honda off with fuel and sent the six-time series Champion back out into the fight where he put his foot down and continued to gain positions as various strategies started playing out.
Dixon’s second to last pit-stop saw his crew put on used alternate Firestones, setting him up for new alternate tires for his final pit stop. Dixon was chasing Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for fifth place when CGR Managing Director and Dixon’s strategist Mike Hull called him to pit road for the last time.
“We had to use a lot of overtake early on, so that definitely changed things up, I think, for the strategy towards the final five there,” said Dixon. “Had a tricky moment with the 10 car coming in front of us in the pit, which kind of screwed us a bit as well, and lost a position that we should have got on Rossi, which was frustrating.”
Dixon’s frustration was short-lived as the caution came out on Lap 84 when Rinus VeeKay misjudged a pass on Dixon’s teammate Jimmie Johnson, pinching the No. 48 Carvana Honda into the wall ending Johnson’s day.
The 4-lap caution period set-up a restart with Scott McLaughlin leading Power, Pato O’Ward, Newgarden, Rossi and Dixon as the green flag dropped. McLaughlin got a great start and Power settled in behind his teammate when O’Ward made an ambitious move trying to pass Power in Turn 1. It didn’t work.
“Yeah, he sent it straight into me,” Power explained. “I left as much room as I could. Inside, inside, and I kept going further, and, bam, he hit me over the curve. I didn’t expect it from Pato, though. He is usually a pretty good racer, pretty smart racer. He was probably needing to win the race to have a shot at the championship, so he probably just went a little bit too far.”
Turn 1 usually produces some memorable highlights at Portland and this restart was no different as right behind the Power/O’Ward tussle, Newgarden and Rossi got together opening the door for Dixon, who didn’t hesitate to take advantage.
“I think when I saw Josef break I was, like, ‘Wow, I’m not sure if he is going to make the corner,'” said Dixon. “He did all that he could to make the corner, but put him at a weird angle, and that, obviously, offset him and Rossi because Rossi had a great run on him out of 12 into turn one. Then, got a great exit.”
Dixon turned hard left, avoided that calamity, and carried the momentum through the turn and set his sights on O’Ward, who was still gaining speed after hitting Power and made a reactionary move to Dixon’s passing attempt, which is a violation of INDYCAR rules.
“I got a run on Pato, and he put a pretty big block on, and a lap later IndyCar called that, and I was able to get past, which thankfully I think the front three, we pulled a ten-second gap on the next pack where we pulled away really quickly,” said Dixon. “It was a great restart. Something that definitely helped us on the points side, and we’ll take what we can.”
Dixon set his sights on Power and was able to get within a second of the No. 12 Chevy but wasn’t able to challenge for the second spot on the podium.
“We did as much as we could today,” said Dixon. “All in all, I think the team did a great job today. Yeah, we’ll see. See what comes next week. I think it’s pretty cool that we don’t need any resets or any chase championships or anything like that. It always comes down to the wire in the INDYCAR Series.”
Ganassi’s Alex Palou won’t repeat as INDYCAR Champion
PORTLAND, OR (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou’s hopes of repeating as NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion is over after Palou was mathematically eliminated after his 12th-place finish in Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland.
Palou stated the race in the fourth position on Firestone alternate red sidewall tires and ran in the Top 5 through the first stint of the race. Palou however radioed the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants crew during the second stint that something was wrong with the rear of the car. Palou was on the less-grippy, black sidewall Firestone tires.
“Starting fourth, we were running okay in the beginning and then lost a bit of pace,” said Palou. “We’ll check on what went on today and recover next week in Laguna. We still have one race to go, and we will try to win it.”
Palou’s sits 66-points behind championship leader Will Power going into the season finale next Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Palou’s teammates Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson remain in the title fight with Dixon tied for second place, 20-points behind Power and Ericsson 39-points out of the top spot.