Dixon triumphs through the chaos

After a 1 hour 45 minute delay due to lightning in the area, the race started and despite damp patches around the track all cars started on dry tyres, with the top five on interchangeable tires but Josef Newgarden and Will Power on primary compound rubber. However, more rain fell – luckily no more lightning.

On the first start, Scott McLaughlin took pole position in the lead, but Romain Grosjean’s attempts to get behind him pushed Christian Lundgaard against the wall, forcing him to lose momentum and Palou past his outside into Turn 9 (turn 1 at the start of the race). Behind them, Pato O’Ward was fifth, but David Malukas on alternative tires had no problem slipping past Newgarden in the primaries, and two laps later Simon Pagenaud did the same with Power for the same reason.

Andretti Autosport saw Colton Herta fail to complete an outside pass on Dalton Kellett’s AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy and find the tire wall, necessitating a pit stop for a new front wing. Team-mate Alexander Rossi, who also started artificially far back, also pitted, but to get rid of his deputies and get on primary tyres.

Up front, McLaughlin took a 1.4-second lap over Grosjean, with Palou following the Andretti car from a similar distance, but under pressure from Lundgaard. O’Ward ran fifth ahead of Malukas, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Power and Graham Rahal. at 11eScott Dixon had risen from 14e on the grid, but his teammate Marcus Ericsson had lost ground thanks to a penalty for jumping from the start.

The first warning came on lap 8, as Rossi ran long and then stopped in Turn 10. He got a kick start, but like teammate Herta, he was now a lap down. So he took the opportunity to pit again, as did Helio Castroneves and Jimmie Johnson.

The race resumed on lap 11 and O’Ward rounded Lundgaard in fourth, while Newgarden, Pagenaud and Power Malukas were relegated to ninth and Rinus VeeKay used his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy for Dixon.

On lap 13 Lundgaard made a great move around the outside of O’Ward after slowing down the AMSP driver in Turn 4 and recovering in fourth.

Rahal passed Malukas for ninth on lap 17, perhaps a signal that the alternate tire start was starting to go off, and the Coyne driver would continue to fall until he pitted for the primaries. On lap 18, Newgarden took fifth from O’Ward, while Pagenaud ducked into the pits to get off his deputies and head into the primaries, allowing Power to get closer to O’Ward.

Not wanting to strand as a caution would fly, Palou pitted from third with badly worn rear tires – and sure enough, the caution flew! Castroneves had turned his MSR car exiting Turn 3.

When the pits opened, everyone who hadn’t stopped jumped at the chance, leaving Palou feeling like the luckiest man in the world up front, ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Pagenaud, Kyle Kirkwood and Malukas. McLaughlin finished sixth ahead of Grosjean, Power, Lundgaard, O’Ward, Newgarden and Rahal. However, this order did not last long, and neither did the green flag period.

Rahal drove into the back of O’Ward at Turn 6, breaking his front wing and pushing the AMSP car into Power’s Penske. O’Ward’s car lost drive on impact and came to a stop, while Rahal understeered into the wall at Turn 7. With his front wing clamped under his front wheels, he made hard contact with the wall on the bridge, and by the time he returned to the pits his car was too damaged to continue.

Their incident had repercussions further back, eliminating Kellett and De Silvestro and slowing Callum Ilott coming to a stop.

Dixon got around most of the trouble, but got a flat tire and also another problem with the rear wheel.

At the restart on lap 34, Palou led Pagenaud, Malukas, McLaughlin, Johnson, Kirkwood, Power, Lundgaard and Felix Rosenqvist to the green. On the previous restart, Newgarden had kicked very carefully and found himself elbowing to 14 . felle, behind one of his championship rivals Ericsson. The race resumed just long enough for Kirkwood and Grosjean to bypass Johnson, and for VeeKay to relegate Lundgaard, and then the yellow spots flew, not for Ilott and Rossi who disappeared on the escape route from Turn 9 but for Devlin De Francesco and Takuma Sato who collided with each other and a wall. The pair limped into the pits and was eliminated.

When the pits opened, Newgarden and Dixon re-entered the pits and came in 17 . appeare and 18e respectively with primary bands.

On the restart on lap 42, Palou was tagged by Pagenaud but held out into Turn 9 as McLaughlin swept past Malukas and VeeKay jumped off Power to finish eighth. A lap later, he threw Johnson out and took full advantage of his substitutes.

McLaughlin was eager to follow Palou, and in Turn 11 he dove past the Meyer Shank-Honda, and half a lap later Malukas also relegated Pagenaud, while Grosjean passed his compatriot on lap 44. Kirkwood also got around the purple car, the MSR driver complains of a diff problem that causes him to get too much wheelspin out of the corners. In lap 46 he lost sixth to VeeKay, in lap 47 Rosenqvist was also through.

Meanwhile, Power’s day also got worse, the innocent O’Ward’s attack gave him gearbox problems and caused him to fall off the field to 12e on lap 47, behind rival Ericsson. Then Rossi passed the #12 Penske on lap 49.

Power, Dixon, Lundgaard and VeeKay made a pit stop on lap 50, and the first three of them counted themselves very lucky, as although VeeKay bypassed the crippled Verizon Penske, later in the lap he ran into the back of Rahal who started around 25 laps trailing, but had hit the wall of Turn 4.

Under the ensuing yellow, all the former front-runners ducked into the pits, leaving Newgarden in front – but needing one more stop – ahead of Dixon, Lundgaard, Power, Harvey. Palou led the recent in sixth while McLaughlin had a slow stop to finish in 15e. He would soon begin to remedy that. When Palou passed Power – soon followed by Malukas and Herta – McLaughlin was already eighth and ducked past Power whose gearbox was in emergency mode, so he had to upshift when upshifting. Power would fall behind Kirkwood, Grosjean, Ericsson and Rossi on lap 62 of 80.

Newgarden was now driving at full throttle, unable to get his fuel to the finish, so knowing he would have to make a late stop. His teammate McLaughlin was sixth ahead of Malukas, who was then the prey of Kirkwood, his rival for the 2021 Indy Lights title. It ended in tears at Turn 9 on lap 64, when Kirkwood plunged into the inside of the Coyne car, who closed the door. The pair slid hard into the tire wall.

Under yellow, Newgarden made a pit stop, leaving Dixon in front, ahead of Lundgaard and Palou, who had sustained damage to the left front wing passing Power. He could easily be meat to Herta, McLaughlin and Grosjean on a restart.

The fall off the green with 10 laps to go saw McLaughlin pass Herta and then Palou for third, while Grosjean also passed Herta, losing Power to the spirited Newgarden (after a brilliant restart), Harvey and Pagenaud. Meanwhile, Ericsson lost several places due to lack of drive and went into emergency mode.

On lap 73, Johnson crashed his Ganassi car at Turn 4, revealing another yellow, and only four laps left for the rest of the race… otherwise it would have been over. But Newgarden made a very daring move into Turn 9, surfacing the inside of Grosjean on cold tires at such high speed that he needed the entire width of the track at the exit. That pushed the Andretti car against the wall, which brought out first yellow and then red. Under the yellow, Ericsson’s car again lost drive and the car was eliminated while the remaining cars went into the pits to wait for the cleanup. Meanwhile, the stewards decided that no further punishment was deserved for Newgarden.

The engines were restarted allowing 1.5 laps of green as the restarts are at Turn 9. Dixon didn’t break away, but he held onto the lead to beat McLaughlin at the checkered by just 0.1067 seconds. Palou, Rossi, Herta, Newgarden and Rosenqvist pushed Lundgaard to eighth place in five kilometers. Rossi and Herta could be happy to have come back after a lap.

Harvey clocked in ninth for RLL, ahead of Pagenaud and the no doubt relieved and frustrated Power who still has a six point lead in the championship but now over Dixon.

This was Dixon’s 53rd victory, so he moved away from Mario Andretti to become the only second in the list of all-time winners behind AJ Foyt.

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