Dixon rallies from early issues to win chaotic IndyCar finale at Laguna Seca

Scott Dixon came back from a grid penalty, a lap one collision and a drive-through penalty to score his third win in four races, to round out his 2023 in style, in a race repeatedly turned on its head by eight caution flags.

Polesitter Felix Rosenqvist elected to take a set of Firestone primary tires, with Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske alongside on alternates. Behind them, Christian Lundgaard and Josef Newgarden also went in different directions, primary and alternate respectively. Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay elected for primaries, Will Power for alternates, and Romain Grosjean primaries.

At the drop of the green flag, Rosenqvist got away well enough to stave off McLaughlin into Turn 2, but Lundgaard tagged the left-rear wheel of McLaughlin at the apex, pushing him into the sand, with Newgarden ushered that way as well. In the middle of the pack behind them, Marcus Armstrong’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda made contact with Graham Rahal’s RLL car and pushed him out and into Newgarden. Rahal went into teammate Juri Vips. On the exit of the corner, Scott Dixon – who had started six places back from his fifth place grid position due to a late engine change – got sideways as he applied the power and knocked VeeKay off the track and into a spin.


So the restart saw Rosenqvist leading Palou, Power, O’Ward, Dixon, fast-starting Colton Herta, Rossi, Grosjean, Santino Ferrucci and Agustin Canapino.

Following the restart, Palou crowded Rosenqvist out on the exit of Turn 11 and Rosenqvist lost traction on the curbs, thus Power was able to outdrag him down the front straight to claim second.

Then out came the second yellow of the race — Newgarden, way behind the field after getting repairs from the lap one incident, spun going into Turn 4 and stalled. Lundgaard, Marcus Ericsson and VeeKay took this opportunity to pit.

On the restart at the end of lap 11, Power wheelspun into Turn 11 and Rosenqvist was all over him along the front straight and dived down the inside of the No. 12 Penske to take third, nudging the two-time champion wide. That cost Power momentum and Rosenqvist’s teammate O’Ward easily followed him through into third.

Meanwhile, Lundgaard and Dixon were made to serve drive-through penalties for avoidable contact.

By lap 15, Palou had pulled 3s on Rosenqvist who had 2s on O’Ward. Power was either saving fuel or was struggling to get his alternates up to temp, for he had gone 2.5s down, although he was holding off Herta and Grosjean. The most startling drive so far was from Argentine rookie Canapino, who had started 19th (after a six-place grid penalty), but had avoided the melee and had now charged up to seventh after Rossi was handed a “cede one position” order from race control after blocking his surprise challenger.

On lap 17, Dixon pitted for fuel and tires to go off strategy and took on a set of alternates. It took him a notably long time to get them up to temp – and still he was slower than the primary-tired driver up front, the only driver to break into the 68s so far. By lap 20, he was 7.5s up the road. Having pulled out a nine second lead by lap 25, his one scary moment was thanks to Helio Castroneves who spun out of Turn 2, then got knocked off by Benjamin Pedersen at Turn 3 and rejoined the track right in front of Ganassi’s leader.

On lap 26 Herta demoted Power to fifth but was 16s behind Palou. The next lap Rosenqvist pitted for alternates while O’Ward ducked into the pitlane on lap 28.

Palou ducked into the pits just in time before the pits closed for a caution flag – Rosenqvist and Ericsson had collided at Turn 2. The Swedish Ganassi driver spun and stalled on the spot; the Swedish McLaren driver made it to Turn 3 and then spun due to a deflated left rear tire. Both needed rescuing.

Palou, of course, rejoined in the lead ahead of Power who had been planning to run a tad longer and was now left in no-man’s land. Herta pitted for emergency service during the yellow so had to pit again for a proper fuel load. When the pits opened, Rossi and Ericsson both suffered bad stops – Rossi’s air jack failed; Ericsson stalled trying to leave his pitbox.

Rossi, Herta, Vips and Rosenqvist were ordered to the back of the field before the restart for taking emergency service in a closed pitlane

The order at the restart was Palou, O’Ward, Lundgaard (after four pitstops!), Grosjean, the remarkable Canapino, Marcus Armstrong, Ferrucci, Scott McLaughlin, Devlin De Francesco and David Malukas. Those who had been caught outside the pits by the yellow were deep in the pack — Power was now 16th.

The race restarted at the end of lap 36…kind of. Power nerfed AJ Foyt Racing’s Pedersen into a spin at Turn 11, while further up the racetrack, their respective teammates collided too, McLaughlin thumping into the back of Ferrucci as they approached Turn 2, sending the Foyt driver on a wild ride across the gravel. He survived, but dropped from seventh to 11th.

Under yellow, Lundgaard pitted leaving Grosjean third, Canapino fourth, McLaughlin fifth and Malukas sixth. Not for long – race control told McLaughlin and Power they would have to restart from the back of the field, with McLaughlin also pitting for a new front wing. Then they were ordered to pitlane yet again for pitting after being put to the back.

Ganassi’s Armstrong and Dixon also pitted under yellow, topping off and aiming to take only one more stop in the 95-lap race.

Out came the green flag at the end of lap 41. Grosjean trying to hang on the outside of O’Ward at Turn 2 didn’t work and he dropped two places to Canapino and Malukas. By the time they reached the Corkscrew, Grosjean was back ahead of Malukas, while Ferrucci was up into sixth ahead of DeFrancesco, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Ed Carpenter Racing) and Meyer Shank’s Tom Blomqvist.

Herta ran into the back of Rossi, crumpling his nose and shoving the McLaren off track on lap 45.

At this point, Palou was setting 68.7s laps, O’Ward was working hard to cling on but losing 0.5s a lap, and everyone else seemed bunched up behind Canapino who was running his set of alternates.

Grosjean pitted on lap 48, and a lap later Blomqvist passed Hunter-Reay for seventh. Malukas stopped on lap 52 and was passed by Grosjean. Blomqvist pitted on lap 53.

With 40 laps to go, Palou’s lead was 5s, with Canapino a further 7s back, Ferrucci another 5s in arrears and Hunter-Reay 6s behind that until pitting on lap 56. Armstrong and Dixon, running reduced pace and trying to save fuel, were 27s back – enough time for Palou to pit and emerge without losing the laps.

He didn’t, though, while O’Ward did – and as bad luck would have it for the Ganassi team, that’s when the yellow flew. DeFrancesco, driving one of the best IndyCar races of his career, lost his car under braking for Turn 3 as he tried to retaliate against a pass by Malukas.

That meant Palou, Canapino, Ferrucci et al were shuffled down to 15th thru 17th. Callum Ilott spun on pitlane and disrupted Kyle Kirkwood who gave him a sarcastic thumbs-up as he waited for the JHR car to move.

Up front, O’Ward would lead the field to the green ahead of Armstrong and Dixon, who, like O’Ward, would be trying to make it on one more stop. Herta ran fourth ahead of Castroneves, Lundgaard, Rossi, Grosjean, McLaughlin and Power.

The next restart lasted a few seconds before Blomqvist and Ferrucci got together down at the hairpin. The subsequent yellow created an ideal opportunity for drivers to make their final stop, and, in the course of these pitstops, Dixon jumped Armstrong and emerged in ninth, the pair leading Herta, Lundgaard, Castroneves, McLaughlin and Power. Up front, O’Ward would have to stop again because he still hadn’t run on the alternates, while Rossi was short of fuel in second ahead of Grosjean, Hunter-Reay, DeFrancesco, Canapino, Palou and Ilott.

At the drop of the green, out came the seventh caution of the day – the Honda Civic Type R pace car needed a refuel, believe it or not – as Ericsson and Armstrong collided at Turn 11, after the Kiwi rookie spun by himself. Grosjean had already passed Rossi, but Hunter-Reay took advantage of their exchange to pass Rossi. Under this latest caution, Hunter-Reay and Rossi pitted, as did Malukas, Pedersen, and Ericsson.

O’Ward now led Grosjean, DeFrancesco, the Juncos Hollinger pair of Canapino and Ilott, Palou, Dixon, Herta, McLaughlin and Power.

Grosjean outdragged O’Ward along the front straight to snatch the lead, while Ilott passed Canapino around the outside. Meanwhile, both Dixon and McLaughlin got around Palou and into third and fourth and got ahead of the squabbling JHR pair and DeFrancesco, who was struggling with a faulty gearbox.

There was barely a lap more in the books before Castroneves cannoned into the gearbox-troubled Herta after running on the dirt out of Turn 2. Under this eighth caution, O’Ward and Grosjean pitted, rejoining 13th and 14th.

Surprisingly – or unsurprisingly – Dixon now led the pack ahead of McLaughlin, with Ilott third ahead of Palou and Canapino. Then came Lundgaard, Power, Rossi, Armstrong and Hunter-Reay.

On the restart at the end of lap 78, the green waved again and the two Kiwis behaved themselves, as did Ilott and Palou. Power slipped up the inside of Lundgaard at Turn 2 to gain sixth and, next time by, Power and Rossi passed Canapino.

Up front, Dixon was 1.3s ahead on lap 80, while McLaughlin’s mirrors were full of Ilott and Palou. Canapino, with a droopy front wing, lost a position to Lundgaard and then had to work hard to hold off the lapped Ericsson, and Armstrong.

Lap 83 saw Palou find good traction out of Turn 11 and take third from Ilott along the front straight. He was now 1.9s behind McLaughlin who was 3s behind Dixon. Palou couldn’t close on McLaughlin, nor was he striding away from Ilott.

Armstrong and O’Ward demoted the struggling Canapino on lap 87, and the following lap the unlucky Argentine lost out to Hunter-Reay, then Grosjean too as he ran off track at the entry of the Corkscrew.

JHR’s hopes took a further knock when Ilott ran wide out of Turn 9, ceding fourth to Power, but regaining the track in time to hold off Rossi and Lundgaard.

On the very last lap, Lundgaard passed Rossi for sixth place but just failed to zap Ilott who stopped on track on his slowdown lap.

It was Dixon’s 56th win in the series, leaving him 11 behind A.J. Foyt’s record.

McLaughlin’s runner-up finish, O’Ward’s ninth place and Newgarden’s disastrous day means McLaughlin finishes the year in third in points, O’Ward fourth and Newgarden fifth.

Despite not competing in the five oval races throughout 2023, Armstrong sealed IndyCar’s Rookie of the Year honors.


Story originally appeared on Racer