Scott Dixon may have saved his season with a memorable drive in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America, recovering from a first-lap incident that dropped him to last and charging through the field to finish fifth.
The reigning and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion started 12th and was in the frantic mid-pack mix on the opening lap when he drifted wide, the right side of his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda brushing over the curbing as the field rushed into Turn 5.
Attempting to reposition a decent turn-in angle, Dixon was tagged from behind by Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport Honda, and he spun into the runoff area.
The rest of the field went past as Dixon gathered himself and whipped his Honda around to rejoin the fight –- roughly 10 seconds behind and last among the 23 drivers.
At that moment, the biggest benefit for Dixon was the fact he was one of only five drivers to start the 55-lap race on the preferred primary (black sidewall) tires. Pushing hard, he made rapid progress through the ranks — 13th by Lap 10; closing on the top 10 when, on Lap 15, his crew switched the 45-time Indy car race winner over to a set of alternate (red sidewall) tires.
It then became a track position game where in-laps and out-laps were critical, combined with being on the preferred tire strategy. It all played into Dixon’s favor as he took on scuffed primary tires on the last two pit stops – Lap 27 and 41 – and began making real inroads into the top 10.
On Lap 53, Dixon was in seventh and running down James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Both were gaining on rookie pole-sitter Colton Herta, holding fifth but struggling with pace on the alternates.
Dixon stormed past Hinchcliffe on the following lap, then made quick work of Herta’s fading No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.
In all, Dixon accumulated a race-high 18 passes en route to his sixth top-five finish of the season.
“We were almost 10 seconds behind the field, and we had to try and catch up,” he said after the grueling effort. “It’s racing, man. You get into these issues where you get the accordion effect. Got tapped from behind, spun us around and we tried to make the best of the day, to be honest — and a fifth place was pretty good.
“Luckily, we’re at a track where you can use the strategy a little bit and you can pass if you’ve got a fast car.”
Dixon currently sits fourth in the championship standings with 308 points, 94 behind leader Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) and 87 behind race winner Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport).
“I think we’re at a point in the season where we need to make a run, and when the two leaders are taking all the points, it makes it hard to close the gap. So it’s frustrating,” Dixon added. “We’ve really got nothing to lose. When I went around Marco [Andretti] in [Turn] 13 — something like that I would usually have waited a lap or at least the next corner. But we’ve got nothing to lose right now. It’s kind of a fun way to race.
“We’re 94 points back. We’ve been this far back in previous championships and come close or won. The top two, Josef and Rossi, are definitely doing a fantastic job, and credit to them.”
The IndyCar stewards were called on multiple occasions to investigate several tough, hard-nosed, on-track incidents, including the opening-lap collision involving Hunter-Reay and Dixon. No penalties were issued.
“As long as it stays that way,” said Dixon. “I think for us all, all we try to do is make sure we know how we can race. I asked specifically at the driver’s meeting if we can do what Rossi did last year, where he got on the corner and just ran the other guy (Graham Rahal) off (in Turn 5). And they said it was fine, so I guess it’s pretty much have at it.”