Part of the unique challenge in IndyCar’s return to racing amid the COVID-19 pandemic was the necessity for the Texas Motor Speedway event to be compressed into one day, with just a single practice session leading into qualifying and the race a couple hours later. For the three drivers who wound up on the podium at the end of that long day and night, there were both positive and negative aspects to the tight timeframe.
“It was really the unknowns — trying to cram that all in,” related winner Scott Dixon. “Traveling here this morning, qualifying, practice, race, then we fly home tonight. First time we’ve ever done anything like that. A lot of new things.
“Maybe that’s how we’ll do a lot of our events from now on. I’m not sure. I actually kind of enjoyed it,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver mused. “Kind of cool to do doubleheaders like this — which I think we’re going to do in the future this season, which is going to be a lot of fun. I think the unknowns are the most difficult part.”
“The one-day show is actually interesting in many ways,” agreed runner-up Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske. “You had to be very decisive in your decisions. Obviously, after the first session, we kind of had to decide the race setup right away because the car was going to go to impound after qualifying. That’s a split decision you make in a very short amount of time with your engineer. Same for the crew.
“Yeah, I thought it was very interesting to just do one day, actually. Why not? Bring your stuff and race as hard as you can.”
Pagenaud’s teammate Josef Newgarden, who outdueled Dixon for the pole and battled the New Zealander in the early stages of the race before settling for third at the end, also found a lot to like about a one-day-and-done event.
“I had a blast tonight and today. Just like these guys said, it was super fun to have kind of a jam-packed schedule,” said the series champ.
While Newgarden pointed to the limited running as a partial reason for his handling struggles during the race, he saw positives to that as well.
“The hardest part for me was that, basically thinking we made the right decisions going into the race, about 15 laps in realizing that we were horribly off the mark. So you don’t have a lot of time to rectify an issue,” he added. “I think if there was more practice, more of a lead-up to this event, maybe we would have had some clues to point out maybe we weren’t as strong as we thought we were going into the race.
“When you have that jam-packed schedule, it’s kind of on the team and the driver to execute quickly and to make the right decisions, to show up with good stuff, kind of stick to your guns. I like that. It didn’t work out for us tonight (but) I think in the future we can hopefully thrive in that situation.”
Dixon acknowledged his extensive experience helped with the situation, but felt the Ganassi’s team’s preparations were just as significant in crafting his winning advantage.
“I think experience is good most of the time. It can also set you in your ways a little bit too much, as well,” he noted. “If something changes, it’s not what you’re expecting — I think that can be a bit detrimental as well.
“The car rolled off really well. I knew we’d be working extremely hard on just trying to fix some of the issues we had last year. We had some new people, plus a ton coming back over from the (discontinued) GT program. The engineering depth and everything got a lot stronger, so development was good through the winter.
“The DIL — the simulator with Honda that we’ve been using for the last three weeks in preparation for Texas — has been really good. Lots of things we didn’t think we would try or have the time to try on track, we were able to kind of do that. Gave us some ideas. We were able to sort of verify them once we got here.
“But, yeah, experience tonight definitely helped. You saw some people I think early on make some mistakes pretty quickly. Maybe, if they’d done a few more races before we got to Texas, that wouldn’t have happened.”