Scott Dixon won the 50th IndyCar race of his colossal career Saturday on the strength of a great, final pit stop. But the New Zealander had to use all his savvy to hold off Takuma Sato by a couple of car lengths in the first race of a World Wide Technology Raceway weekend doubleheader.
The two combatants from last week’s Indianapolis 500 reversed roles at the finish in a race ultimately decided in the pits.
Pato O’Ward, who was masterful in leading a race-high 94 laps, was in front of Dixon by less than a second when they pitted for the final time on Lap 163. The Arrow McLaren SP team gave him great service, but the five-time IndyCar champion got his usual magnificence from his Chip Ganassi crew and managed to get out ahead of the 2018 Indy Lights king.
That appeared to be the race’s deciding move … until Sato asserted himself. Leading from Laps 162-175, the two-time Indy 500 winner didn’t pit until Lap 176 and had it not been for trouble on the right rear might have rejoined the action in the lead. As it was, he came out third and then threw down the pass of the season.
Sato caught Pato as they steamed into Turn 1 and stuck his RLL Honda on the outside to grab second and then went after Dixon. He closed to within three-tenths of a second during the final five laps but couldn’t get any closer.
“Pato was quick all day and I hadn’t seen Sato all race, but he was right there at the end,” said Dixon, who ranks third all-time in IndyCar victories and only trails second-ranked Mario Andretti by two.
“Fifty sounds nice, and I’m happy for this team because last week was a bummer.”
Dixon dominated Indy before losing the lead to Sato and then had to watch helplessly as the race ended under caution.
The 43-year-old veteran from Japan nearly pulled off back-to-back wins with his late charge. “Obviously they’re frustrated (about the last stop), but I make mistakes too, and another fantastic job by this team,” he said.
Asked about his pass on O’Ward, he replied: “It was close – too close maybe. But he (O’Ward) did a phenomenal job.”
O’Ward’s second podium of 2020 (he finished second at Road America) coupled with his sixth place at Indy kept him third in the NTT point standings but wondering how that first victory eluded him once again.
“I don’t know what happens at the end. I know it’s not easy to beat Dixon but after Sato passed me, they just pulled away. I had a fantastic car all day and our day will come.”
The race started with a six-car pileup that eliminated three of the five Andretti Autosport cars. Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach were caught up in what looked like a super-slow start with some brake checking; and Ed Carpenter was also KO’d. Simon Pagenaud was hit from behind and spun – which triggered the pileup – and rookies Alex Palou and Oliver Askew both were penalized for jumping the start.
After 12 laps of caution to clean up the wreckage, pole-sitter Will Power took off and led the first 63 laps in his Penske Chevy. But he got caught out by a yellow flag on Lap 109 following his second pit stop, and that put him down a lap, which he could never get back and wound up 17th.
Colton Herta finished fourth in his Andretti Honda, while Marcus Ericsson had a fine run to fifth in his Ganassi Honda and rookie Rinus Veekay continued to shine with a sixth place in ECR’s Chevy.