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Scott Dixon flipped the switch on Alex Palou in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.
Palou started last year’s season finale at Laguna Seca in 11th position and finished with the win.
Dixon started Sunday’s season finale at Laguna Seca in 11th position and finished with the win.
Ultimately, it was Dixon’s third win in the season’s last four races. Still, it was a little bit too little, too late as Palou’s better overall season led to his second title, clinched last week at Portland. Dixon, meanwhile, finished second in the final season standings.
Dixon endured several penalties throughout Sunday’s race on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile permanent road course on the central California coast, including a grid penalty for having to change engines before the event. Still, the six-time IndyCar champ managed to roar back to lead 20 laps of the 95-lap event to clinch his first-ever win at Laguna Seca.
That included an opening lap wreck that collected Dixon, who was penalized for avoidable contact by IndyCar Race Control.
“We had a bit of an issue this morning with a grid penalty, had to lose six spots, and then got caught up in some mayhem at the start,” Dixon said. “I definitely didn’t agree with the call, but I had nowhere to go. I don’t know where they expected me to go.”
But, Dixon found the silver lining after finding victory lane.
“We won, that’s all that matters, we won,” Dixon said.
Even though he finished on the race podium for the ninth time this season (including five wins)—albeit a few steps below Dixon this time—Palou still had reason to celebrate as he finally was able to triumphantly hoist the Astor Cup, the trophy symbolizing winning the IndyCar championship.
Palou—who along with wife Esther are expecting their first child around Thanksgiving—finished the season with a series-high five wins, capping off his second IndyCar championship in three seasons (also won in his sophomore season in 2021).
“It’s been an amazing year, five wins, 10 podiums,” Palou said. “Today was going to be a really good race, as well. It was a fun race. Everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing did an awesome job, giving us the cars we needed and I’m super happy to get our second championship.”
The 95-lap event wound up being part race and part demolition derby, with eight cautions for 35 laps in the race.
McLaughlin finished second in the race, clinching No. 3 in the season championship. Last year’s champion, Will Power, finished fourth in the race, while Callum Ilott finished fifth.
With Palou and Dixon having wrapped up the top two positions last week, McLaughlin finished third in the overall season championship, followed by O’Ward and Josef Newgarden in fifth.
Finishing the season sixth through 10th were Marcus Ericsson, Power, Lundgaard, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta.
Cupboard is Full at CGR
The rich get richer—and that axiom is certainly true with Chip Ganassi Racing.
CGR celebrated earning its 15th IndyCar driver championship last week when Palou won at Portland to claim his second series crown in three seasons.
After that race, team owner Chip Ganassi confirmed that Palou would be back in the No. 10 next season—and it’s assumed for many more years to come (although no official word on a new multi-year contract has been given yet).
Obviously, provided he sticks around for the long-term, Palou is the heir apparent to Dixon. At 43, Dixon may have only a few more years left in his own racing career.
But CGR is not putting all its eggs in Palou’s basket once Dixon steps out of the cockpit for the final time. This week’s signing of 2022 Indy Lights (now Indy NXT) Series champion Linus Lundqvist, on top of the re-signing 2023 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Marcus Armstrong to a long-term contract, will likely assure CGR to be one of the most dominant teams in the series for many more years to come.
And one more historical factoid: this was the first time in IndyCar annals that the first- and second-place season finishers, plus the Rookie of the Year, all came from the same team.
So Long Helio, See You Soon
Goodbye, Helio Castroneves—but he’s not really going anywhere.
Castroneves had his last full-time ride in Sunday’s race. The 47-year-old Brazilian has been in the sport for over two decades, but he’s not going anywhere. He will assume a role as minority co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing (MSR), will be back behind the wheel for an attempt at a record-breaking fifth win in the Indianapolis 500 next May, as well as participate once again in the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX). He also may compete in some select IMSA races for MSR.
“I’ve been doing this for so many years and learned so much in this sport, it’s about giving back,” Castroneves said. “I’m going to wear a lot of different hats, including team owner, as well as coaching and helping drivers, continue representing great partners we have today.
“It’ll be a great challenge but I’ll still be here. This is my life and part of what I want, and I’ll still race somewhat in the series. SRX will be one of them and hopefully whatever happens next, we’ll just wait and see.”
Opening-Lap Crash Ends Rahal's Season
The race was barely underway when there was a massive crash on the opening lap in Turn 2 of the so-called “Andretti Hairpin.”
Drivers involved included Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin and Josef Newgarden; Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard and fill-in driver Juri Vips; Kyle Kirkwood; Dixon and Rinus VeeKay.
Our day ended before it began. Tough way to end the year but I’m very proud of the work everyone at @rllracing put in this year. It’s been a trying season but this team never stopped putting in the effort. Excited for a break, some time with family, and to get back to work and… pic.twitter.com/FWmL73Xr9G
— Graham Rahal (@GrahamRahal) September 10, 2023
“Wrong place, wrong time there, unfortunately,” said Rahal, whose day was done, leaving him with a last-place (27th) finish. “I didn’t see Armstrong at all. Unfortunately, we hit Juri, we hit Josef, we hit God knows … I feel like we hit everybody.”
But Rahal, who has not signed a contract renewal with RLL yet, tried to find some humor in an otherwise disappointing situation, saying, “I told the medical staff, I’ve seen them more than I’ve seen my wife this year. It’s pretty pathetic.”
Power Streak Snapped
Will Power’s streak of having won at least one race per season has come to an end after 16 seasons (dating back to 2007). It’s still a mystery how last year’s champion went from hero to zero in 2023, finishing the season a disappointing seventh in the overall standings.
It also raises speculation that if the 42-year-old Power’s lack of success continues in 2024, could that be his last season with Team Penske? In 255 races to date, the Australian pilot has two championships (2014 and 2022), 39 wins, 92 podiums and 63 poles.
One other driver used to streaks is Colton Herta, who is a two-time winner at WeatherTech Raceway, as was his father, Bryan. But Sunday marked the end of the younger Herta’s fifth season in the IndyCar series and, like Power, also his first without winning even one race.
He wrecked on Lap 80 after making contact with Castroneves, ending Herta’s day. He had a single season career-low of just one podium finish in 2023.