Dixon crushes fuel strategy to win WWTR as Newgarden finds wall

Scott Dixon humbled his IndyCar rivals for the second straight race with another brilliant fuel-saving run to glory, this time at World Wide Technology Raceway, making only three stops to his rivals’ five, and lapping everyone except his fellow podium finishers, Pato O’Ward and David Malukas.

Also for the second straight race, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden suffered a shunt, after leading 98 laps, so he is now out of title contention, as runaway points leader Alex Palou came home seventh.

Following the grid penalties for early engine changes, pole-winner Scott McLaughlin started 10th, while the four Chip Ganassi Racing Hondas of Alex Palou, Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon and Takuma Sato were clustered from 14th through 17th.


That left Penske’s Josef Newgarden – recent oval dominator – leading the field with Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta in a surprising second place, ahead of a pair of Arrow McLaren Chevrolets – Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist – with Romain Grosjean of Andretti Autosport, David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing, Alexander Rossi (McLaren) and Will Power (Penske) following. Alongside McLaughlin would be Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing.

One of the big questions of the race would be when Firestone’s alternates – on their oval debut – would come into play. The series had ruled out any driver starting on the softer rubber.

At the drop of the green flag, Newgarden led confidently away chased by Herta, while Malukas jumped both the McLarens that started ahead of him. At the back, Ed Carpenter thumped into the rear of Benjamin Pedersen, spinning the AJ Foyt Racing car into the wall. Out came the yellow, and race control looked at the order crossing the most recent timing loop before the yellow and ordered Malukas to drop back behind O’Ward, while Power was up ahead of the slow-starting Grosjean. Under caution, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Augustin Canapino and Santino Ferrucci pitted, the latter taking on the alternates. Carpenter also stopped for a new nose cone following his contact with Pedersen. Soon after, he had to serve a 30s stop and hold penalty.

The restart on lap 11 saw Newgarden maintain his lead ahead of Herta, while Malukas repassed O’Ward for third, with Rosenqvist also demoting his teammate ahead of the third McLaren of Rossi sixth. Grosjean got back around Power. Behind the No. 12 Penske, Palou and McLaughlin re-entered the top 10 after rookie Linus Lundqvist, in the Meyer Shank Racing Honda, fell back after a bold restart.

Up front, Newgarden appeared to have everything in hand, gently easing to 0.9s clear of Herta by lap 30, and not until lap 41 would he push his lead to over 1s before hitting the dirty air of Carpenter. That said, Herta was eager not to cook his tires, too, so hung back from the lead and kept a wary eye on Malukas and the McLarens behind him.

Takuma Sato made the first of the scheduled stops, choosing not to run the alternates yet. He came out and couldn’t get up to speed on his cold tires and held up Herta. That allowed Malukas and the McLarens to swiftly zap past the Andretti driver, thus Herta made his first pitstop. He was swiftly followed by Palou, who did take on the reds, which were showing encouraging durability on Ferrucci’s car (54 laps) although the Foyt driver did stop under this round of stops to take on primaries.

Newgarden pitted on lap 62, leaving Power and Dixon up front until they pitted on lap 66 — Power grabbing primaries, Dixon taking alternates. The overcut had not worked for them, however, since Power was now down in 10th and Dixon in 13th.

Up front, Newgarden, on alternates, was leading, and while Herta did resume second after his stop, he couldn’t hold off O’Ward’s alternate-tired car. Behind Herta was Malukas, Rosenqvist, early stopper Ericsson, Rossi and Palou on alternates, and McLaughlin and Power on primaries. Power then lost 10th to Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing).

The softer rubber allowed Newgarden and O’Ward to break away up front, 6s clear of Herta who was clearly holding up Malukas and Rosenqvist. NBC broadcast the No. 5 team telling O’Ward to keep the pressure on the leader, to ensure he couldn’t save fuel and therefore commit him to three more stops.

Grosjean made his second stop, from 12th, on lap 95 to get off his alternate tires, and Lundqvist did the same.

Newgarden and O’Ward were coming back toward Herta when they elected to come in, two laps and one lap, respectively, after Power, who had stopped early to take on alternates. As Newgarden and O’Ward resumed, they came out behind those who had yet to make their second stops, and briefly the McLaren driver was a strong threat to Newgarden.

However, it was the long-running Dixon who led – by a lap – when the caution flag flew for Sato crashing on lap 120 after several alarming moves earlier on.

Several top runners took this opportunity to stop again, including Newgarden, O’Ward, Rossi, McLaughlin, Malukas, Canapino and Ericsson. Unfortunately, Ericsson suffered a pit incident, sliding into Power’s pitbox ahead with a loose left-rear and getting heavily delayed.

Dixon thus resumed in front and was clearly going to go for a three-stop race, emulating his fuel-saving effort that won him the Indianapolis road course two weeks ago. Behind O’Ward were Rossi, McLaughlin, Malukas, and Canapino. Power, Palou and Herta waited several laps under yellow to make their third stops and dropped to 12th, 14th and 13th respectively.

Meanwhile, IndyCar had been sweeping the track clear of marbles before the restart came on lap 135. Dixon held off Newgarden, O’Ward and Rossi, while McLaughlin and Malukas swapped back and forth and back again, Malukas eventually keeping fifth.

Newgarden and O’Ward touched to the chagrin of the McLaren driver, as he tried to pass the Penske ace. Further back, a less fortunate Penske driver was Power, who dropped to 12th when Herta and Palou got around him. On lap 145, he lost 12th to Rosenqvist, too, who was running reds. Canapino, meanwhile, had to serve a drive-through for striking personnel during his pitstop, so was now a lap down.

McLaughlin passed Malukas for fifth on lap 151, with 109 laps to go, while Palou demoted Herta for 10th on lap 153 after running side-by-side for more than a lap.

O’Ward pitted from third on lap 164, and Rosenqvist also stopped to get off his alternates and onto primaries. Then Newgarden, Malukas, McLaughlin, Rossi and Palou pitted. Significantly, Newgarden emerged behind O’Ward.

This left Dixon up front, 9s ahead of teammate Ericsson who had 4.5s on a battle between Herta and Power, with Grosjean and Kirkwood a further seven seconds down. Ericsson stopped on lap 177 of the 260, with Herta stopping next time by.

Power stayed out, trying to pare down his deficit to Dixon despite being trapped in traffic. Kirkwood pitted from third on lap 188, while Power stopped on lap 189 having trimmed the gap to Dixon down to 7s. Dixon pitted on 195, Grosjean on 196, and thus O’Ward hit the front, 0.5s ahead of Newgarden. Rossi, McLaughlin and Malukas ran 4s behind. All would have to stop one more time, and both Malukas and Rosenqvist elected to take that stop early — pretty much forcing all those on the same strategy to do the same, including Newgarden.

The No. 2 emerged in traffic, and after a couple of laps on his final set of tires, he drifted high into the wall exiting Turn 2, clouting it with both right-side tires. Almost simultaneously, McLaughlin got high after rubbing wheels with Malukas, and fell down the order.

O’Ward, after running fast laps in the lead, pulled in after seeing one of his main foes, Newgarden, fall out of contention.

Once Herta pitted for the final time, that left Dixon leading Power by 0.5s. Dixon, who had stopped on lap 196, could make it to the end; Power, having pitted six laps earlier, would surely need to pit again unless there was a late caution. The pair ran 16s clear of Kirkwood (another one needing a caution) while O’Ward was fourth, 20s behind Dixon. Malukas, Rossi, McLaughlin and Herta were a lap down.

Kirkwood acknowledged the inevitable, pitting from third on lap 243, while Power pitted on lap 247, easing the pressure on Dixon, who allowed Malukas to unlap himself. The Coyne driver homed in on O’Ward but came up 0.5s short, but the pair were 22s behind the winner.

Rossi was a lapped fourth, ahead of McLaughlin, Herta, Palou, Rosenqvist, Power and Ericsson.


Story originally appeared on Racer