Scott Dixon held most of the cards heading into the 2018 IndyCar season finale at Sonoma, and a combination of his trademark calm efficiency and a catastrophic error by main rival Alexander Rossi helped elevate the New Zealander to the rarified status of five-time champion.
“It’s all about the people,” said Dixon, who finished the race second. “I‘m the lucky one that gets to take it across the line. I can’t thank [wife] Emma enough, I she’s been amazing this whole season. My teammate, everybody involved. This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of things that could have gone wrong today. Thanks to PNC who came on board this year, Honda has been amazing… thanks to everybody.
“I’ve got to thank the other teams that we fought hard with – Penske, Andretti. Rossi did a hell of a job, he’s pushed hard this year. He’s a huge talent and is going to win a lot of championships in his career. Man, this is awesome. I can’t believe this is happening. You always doubt that these situations are going to happen.”
The day was completely dominated by pole-sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay, who held complete command all afternoon. But Dixon’s concern heading into the race was Rossi, who changed the entire championship conversation at the very first corner when he drove into the back of teammate Marco Andretti, breaking his front wing and slashing his right-front tire.
The subsequent repairs put him a lap down, and the incident took much of the sting out of the opening phase of the contest until Dixon and a still-lapped Rossi found themselves fighting over the same patch of track for a couple of laps. Whatever temptation Dixon might have felt to simply let Rossi past and spare himself the distraction was overridden by a desire to retain every last advantage, and after spending two laps with blue and yellows filling his mirrors, Dixon actually pulled away again.
It took a battery problem silencing Graham Rahal’s car and bringing out a full-course yellow to wake things. Rahal’s problem materialized just moments after Rossi had pulled into pitlane, and allowed the No.27 to rejoin the back of the pack on the lead lap.
That paid dividends within seconds of the restart, when Rossi managed to sidestep some midfield elbowing and make up a few places. Some ferocious overtaking through the laps that followed earned him a few more, and within seven laps he was up to P7 and sizing up Sebastien Bourdais.
Rather than looking for the pass, Rossi looked for the pitlane, opting for a slightly early final stop in the hope of being able to capitalize on a late yellow. That was neutralized just a lap later when Dixon, mindful that he ultimately needed to cover Rossi more than he needed to cover Hunter-Reay, followed suit. Hunter-Reay made his own final stop shortly afterwards, and when everything shook out, the No.28 was still leading from Dixon, and Rossi was back in fifth with two Penskes ahead of him. And with a pair of scuffed Firestone primaries underneath him, he didn’t have the pace to do much about them.