Scott Dixon went from Saturday setback to Sunday celebration at Belle Isle. After a rare single-car wreck in Race 1, the Chip Ganassi Racing star rebounded with a textbook drive to victory in the second half of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix double-header.
In the incident-filled, tire-wear-centric race, Dixon and his Ganassi team were in their element. From a sixth-place start, Dixon surged to the lead on strategy and mistakes by his rivals, then took control when it counted and stood off the challenge of a couple of late-race restarts to score the 44th win of his legendary career.
“Most of it was trying to keep temperature in the tires,” said the New Zealander of managing the lead. “Tricky situation, especially on the blacks — just seems like they picked up the concrete. But I just can’t thank the PNC Bank crew enough. Rough day yesterday — I had a pretty good headache today and my wrist was pretty sore after that (crash); but I just drove the wheels off it and they handled the strategy — and the strategy is what nailed it.”
Runner-up Marcus Ericsson was almost as happy after the best result of his IndyCar career to date for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
“It was amazing, my first podium since 2013,” exulted the ex-Formula 1 driver. “We’ve had such bad luck and I’ve done mistakes when we’ve been looking really good; so to finally have a result like this and be on the podium is a great reward for all the hard work. Now we can build on this.”
A similar theme was voiced by the even-more-disbelieving third-place finisher. Will Power parted the cloud of his increasingly frustrating season with a remarkable comeback drive that took him from 11th at the start to involvement in a multi-car incident, and a consequent gearbox problem that left him stalled on course, only to fight his way back to the front.
“I couldn’t believe it. I thought we were done,” related the Team Penske driver. “I tried to reset it, then it stalled. We went fast when we needed to to make a bunch of spots.
“It (bad luck) always switches at some point. I think this is a switch.”
It was a big switch in weather from Saturday’s delayed wet/dry start to Sunday’s opening under clear blue skies, but chaos followed quickly anyway.
Polesitter Josef Newgarden made a clean start to gap fellow front-row man Alexander Rossi at the green, but at Turn 3, a classic accordion-effect incident followed after Power and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist came together while Simon Pagenaud got into the back of Power and was collected along with the luckless Pato O’Ward (Carlin) and Tony Kanaan (Foyt).
Power had been one of only three drivers (along with Santino Ferrucci and Graham Rahal, who started last after gearbox issues in qualifying) opting to start on the primary tires rather than reds, gambling on the chance to gain track position as those on reds would be obliged to pit earlier.
However, the early caution led all but six cars to swap out their reds for blacks. Power didn’t stop … until he did soon, on course, with his aforementioned gear selection issue. The No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was able to resume, but was yet again at the back of the field.
Pagenaud too was able to get going again, but only after losing 12 laps after repairs to his own gearbox.
Meanwhile, non-stoppers Dixon, Spencer Pigot (Ed Carpenter Racing), Ferrucci and Rahal led the way at the restart on Lap 8. Newgarden outmuscled Chilton for fifth to put the Carlin driver between himself and Rossi. Dixon pulled away out front in the early laps but then abruptly hit the red-tire-degradation cliff, losing the lead to Ferrucci before diving for the pits. Pigot tried to follow suit but was rear-ended by Sebastian Bourdais as he darted toward the pit. The Frenchman caught major air while Pigot speared the inside wall hard and slid on into the pitlane attenuator.
Dixon had ducked in for tires just before this incident, duplicating Newgarden’s lucky break in pit timing for Race 1. He was still back to ninth for the restart, though, trailing Ferrucci, Rahal, Newgarden and Rossi, with Hinchcliffe, Herta, Rosenqvist and Zach Veach all within striking distance.
The young Dale Coyne Racing driver made the most of his chance at the front, eking out a 1.6-lead over Rahal, who was able to pit and resume ahead of Newgarden and Rossi. So was Hinchcliffe, who balked Newgarden as he got up to speed, giving Rossi an opening on the Penske driver.
Newgarden committed to a pass inside Hinchcliffe into Turn 3, but then broke loose and the Canadian was sandwiched the Hitachi Penske No. 2 and Rossi’s Honda. The championship leader was wedged into the tire barrier alongside the Arrow Schmidt Peterson car while Rossi snapped sideways but regained control… barely.
“He (Hinchcliffe) checked me up and I had to go down a gear, and then we were just in a bad situation with Rossi behind us,” said Newgarden. “I can’t blame anyone — it’s ultimately my fault the way this happened, but I thought he didn’t have to come straight across the track. I should have made a better decision there — obviously it’s not the right thing that I did. I think there was just too much marbles, it just was too slick. As soon as I tried to turn, I lost the rear.”
Hinchcliffe’s version: “We got two guys in the first round of stops, got into the lead on our strategy in the second round of stops, and ultimately, was taken out by a guy with not enough patience. I feel gutted for the guys who were legitimate contenders for the race. The podium was in the cards and we really needed that right now.”
Mulled Rossi: “It was just the three of us going for it. I just bailed out — and obviously it was the right decision.”
All this chaos put Dixon back in front of Ericsson, Takuma Sato, Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Rahal and Bourdais, the latter making an astonishing recovery from his earlier incident. Ferrucci fell to the back on his stop, the caution for the Newgarden/Hinchcliffe incident coming at the wrong time for him; and the No. 9 Ganassi crew bested the No. 7 Arrow SPM crew in the pits to extend Dixon’s advantage.
A resurgent Power had fought his way back up to third before the next full-course caution, this one after Hinchcliffe’s already ruined race ended when the No. 5 Arrow Honda lost drive on course. That restart with a dozen laps to go was drama free, but another followed with five laps left when Rosenqvist backed heavily into the wall at Turn 1. IndyCar red-flagged the race to prevent a finish under caution, but it made no difference to iceman Dixon, who cinched the win with another picture-perfect restart to head home Ericsson by 1.9s.
Behind Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay withstood a slowly deflating right-rear tire to hold off Rossi for fourth, while Marco Andretti completed an encouraging rise from 19th on the grid to take sixth ahead of Rahal, Veach, Bourdais and Ferrucci.
In the championship race, Newgarden still leads, but his advantage has been pared to 15 over Rossi, 25 over Pagenaud and 52 over the recharged Dixon headed for the high banks of Texas next weekend.