Scott Dixon survived a thrashed set of Firestone reds and a late challenge from a flying teammate to lead a Ganassi 1-2 in a thrilling NTT IndyCar Series race at Mid-Ohio.
On an afternoon defined by wildly divergent strategies in both pit stops and tire choice, Dixon established himself at the front of the two-stopper battle when, on red tires, he won a multi-lap duel with the black-shod Will Power, who was on a similar fuel strategy, to claim what at that point was 10th.
But everyone up the road ahead of him had to make an additional stop, and as their own strategies played out, and lapped traffic came into the picture, Dixon cycled up into the lead with a buffer that at one stage stretched to more than 14s. He made his final stop with 30 laps to go, put on a set of scuffed reds, and rejoined eighth.
He’d cycled back into the lead six laps later, but with an aggressive tire strategy to make work and a tight fuel number to hit, his advantage had slimmed down to around 6s by the time the final round of stops had shaken out. Teammate Felix Rosenqvist, who’d earlier short-stinted his reds and gradually emerged as the leader of the three-stoppers, led the pursuit, and as the laps ticked away and Dixon’s tires became increasingly cooked, it became clear that a sixth Mid-Ohio victory wasn’t the sure thing that it had seemed half an hour earlier.
Rosenqvist quickly whittled Dixon’s advantage down to almost nothing, but the situation was complicated by the presence of the lapped cars of Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti in between the two Ganassis. And they were racing each other just as hard as the leaders, going through several corners side-by-side in their battle over 14th while running in the shadow of Dixon’s rear wing. Sato was no less aggressive when trying to pass Dixon to unlap himself, but the leaders managed to avoid disaster while navigating the backmarkers, and with two laps to go Rosenqvist finally had a clear swing at his teammate.
The Swede was given a quick reminder over the radio to “keep it clean – remember this is your teammate,” which also served to signal that Ganassi was letting its drivers race each other. But the ferocity of those final laps made that obvious anyway, and the pair even made light contact as Dixon tried frantically to keep his colleague at bay.
A final attempt by Rosenqvist to out-drag Dixon out of the final corner fell just short and Dixon claimed the win by just 0.09s – the closest finish ever at Mid-Ohio, and the third-closest road course finish in IndyCar history.
“Oh man, that was crazy,” said Dixon. “Feel a little bit bad with Felix; I put some moves on him, for sure. I’ll apologize to him for that now. But we were a sitting duck, and if he got through, everyone was going to get through. We were a bit too aggressive with the strategy on the second reds there, but great job by the team. So hard… if I wasn’t his teammate, he would have had me off there, so a lot of respect. It is what it is, but just proud of the team and proud that we got it done. Those tires were shot. I thought we were going to have to pit again with 15 laps to go.”
Rosenqvist consoled himself with the first podium finish of his IndyCar career.
“Chip [Ganassi] lets us race, and it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Say what you want, but that’s how we race, so we had to get through the traffic and get to Scott. I thought he gave me the room and then he veered in at the last moment. It was a bit of a misunderstanding and we touched a little bit, but great racing and my first podium.”
In addition to delivering a highlight reel finish, the weekend could also have huge implications for the championship. Points leader Josef Newgarden was battling Ryan Hunter-Reay for third in the closing stages, but by his own admission got too aggressive, and the resultant contact left him beached in the gravel at the Keyhole on the final lap. Fourth became 14th, and handed a significant points swing to Alexander Rossi – who was just a couple of places behind him at the time – and Dixon.
“I just forced the issue,” said an unhappy Newgarden, who’d earlier lost a significant amount of time to a refueling problem in the pits. “Was trying to get on the podium, and got into the side of him and it started looping around and I lost power. My fault for forcing the issue. We had a great car today. Wish we could have done a bit more at the end there. Wasn’t meant to be.”
Hunter-Reay held on for third ahead of Power and Rossi.
“I have had it go the other way plenty of times, so we’ll take it,” said Rossi of Newgarden’s misfortune. “Difficult day overall for us; didn’t seem to have the pace on either tire. The team did a great job to keep me focused.”
Rossi’s relatively muted pace toward the end wasn’t helped by his having opted for a long final stint as insurance against a yellow, which left him marginal on fuel. Just how marginal became apparent when he ran dry moments after crossing after the finish line.
The race ran caution-free, although you would have bet otherwise on the opening lap when a skirmish near the back resulted in Sato bouncing Marcus Ericsson into Arrow SPM teammate James Hinchcliffe. All three cars pitted at the end of the lap for repairs, but only two were able to rejoin.
“The Rahal car hit me really hard from inside and bounced me into James,” said Ericsson, whose race was ended by the incident. “It’s a shame.”