Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season-finale at Laguna Seca was just a handful of laps old, and Scott Dixon had already had to deal with a six-place grid penalty, a lap one accident and a contentious drive-through penalty for his role in aforementioned lap one accident.
That he and his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team were able to turn such an inauspicious start into the Kiwi’s 56th career win is entirely in keeping with any number of other entries on his resume, but Dixon still rates Laguna among his busiest.
“It was a tough race,” said Dixon, who’d committed early to a two-stop strategy as opposed to the three-stopper favored by some of the other frontrunners. “But it worked out for us. Strategy; we just tried to keep it simple, kind of working from the back end of the race. I was definitely shocked to see the No. 5 (Pato O’Ward) and the No. 28 (Romain Grosjean) pit when they did [ED: during the eighth caution]. I knew after that we had a really fast car, even with some of the damage we kind of had from the contact with the No. 21 (Rinus VeeKay) on the start.
“All in all, great day. It’s nice to rebound like we did. Definitely some heated moments throughout the race. Pretty [angry] at times. It’s always nice to finish the year like that.”
Dixon’s most heated moment came in response to being issued a drive-through for avoidable contact during the aforementioned multi-car incident on the opening lap.
“I have no idea what goes on up there (in race control), seriously,” he said when asked about the penalty. “I don’t know what to say.
“It’s chaos anyway. The starts… I feel like we normally get a little more room. I was trying to accelerate. The No. 26 was right beside me. The No. 21 was maybe off track, coming back on track, then we connected. I haven’t really seen a replay to really understand what happened.
“Some races, for that, you’ve got to give up one spot. Today was a drive-through for several people. I really don’t know, man.”
Callum Ilott, who spent the afternoon climbing from 20th to fifth, highlighted congestion at the final corner during restarts as one of the primary culprits behind the succession of yellows. Dixon concurred, and pointed to his own restart after the final caution – when he took off earlier, and the race remained green – as evidence.
“I went a lot earlier. There was no caution. Yeah, that’s what the guys need to do,” Dixon grinned.
“I don’t know. I feel like when you go out of Turn 10, then just the congestion… some people are on bad tires, they can’t stop as well. You kind of get this whole pack-up, this rubber band effect. Ultimately if you kind of go out of Turn 9 like I did, before [Turn 10], it kind of strings it out a little bit more.
“The restarts have been interesting this year. Sometimes it’s the only advantage you can get, right? You try to jump it. We’ve seen a lot of that throughout the year.
“I think in the off-season we have to try and figure out a way to do that a bit better. Even if we need to maybe go to no passing until the start/finish line or something. You don’t want to make it boring, either. It’s a fine balance. It’s very difficult for race control to call it.”
Dixon’s win capped off a memorable weekend for Chip Ganassi Racing, which also saw Marcus Armstrong secure rookie of the year honors and Alex Palou earn a podium finish at an event that was essentially an extended victory lap for the 2023 championship that he wrapped up a week ago in Portland.
“It’s a good year,” Dixon said. “We’ve had years like this [before]. It’s been a long time ago. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a situation where you come into the last race and you can’t fight really much for anything in the championship. We were locked into second. Alex was locked obviously for the championship, which was quite bizarre. Everybody’s stress level was a lot lower. You could all just kind of fight for the win. Huge, huge year for the team.”