IndyCar’s Dixon Gets Royal Treatment Back Home

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 4 2019
IndyCar driver Scott Dixon celebrated his win in Detroit with a fountain drink on Sunday. He also could celebrate a royal honor. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Already considered royalty in the INDYCAR paddock, Scott Dixon’s homeland has made it official.

Dixon recovered from a crash and last-place finish in Saturday’s weather-plagued Race 1 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix to win Race 2 on Sunday. The victory was the 45th of the five-time/reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion’s career and moved Dixon within seven wins of tying Mario Andretti for second on the all-time Indy car list.

Before the race, Dixon learned that Queen Elizabeth II had conferred upon him the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his services to motorsports. The announcement was part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List recognizing achievements of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom. Dixon was born in Australia but is a proud citizen of New Zealand.

“It was definitely a huge honor to get the Companion Merit of Order, which is definitely very prestigious, something you don’t expect,” said Dixon, 37. “For me, I think it’s not like a normal accolade, like a trophy or a race win. It’s something of a very different feeling, so for me it’s definitely been outstanding. Very proud to get that.

“Yeah, it’s kind of weird that whole thing in a great way, to have that recognition in New Zealand, from England as well, all part of the Commonwealth. Yeah, huge day and definitely not one I’m going to forget.”

For the record, Dixon was appointed Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2012 and was named New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Year in 2008 and 2013, two of his title seasons.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon won the nightcap in Detroit.

Dixon crossed the Raceway at Belle Isle Park finish line 1.9419-seconds ahead of series rookie Marcus Ericsson, who posted his first podium finish in his eighth race. A day after crashing on the 24th lap and finishing 22nd, Dixon led 44 laps _ including the last 21 on the 14-turn/2.35-mile temporary street course.

“Felt like a bit of an idiot (Saturday), especially clipping that inside wall,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing. “Honestly, when I hit it, I didn’t think it was going to break the suspension. It did.

“Yeah, I was definitely pretty miserable. I think I went straight back to the bus and stayed in the whole night, didn’t go see anybody. I went and hung out with the team when they were repairing all the damage I caused. When scenarios like that happen, you feel really bummed. When you know all the effort that goes into these race weekends, especially a doubleheader right off of Indy, we had a bad run at Indy, yeah, you just want to try and make something positive out of it.

“Today was all about redemption. The team nailed the strategy, the car was super-fast. We were able to get the mileage we needed to, which was going to be really tough, with the exception of those last couple cautions.

“I can’t believe we ended up here and it’s just fantastic. Fantastic.”

It was Dixon’s first win in 14 races, or since the Honda Indy Toronto last summer, and his third at Belle Isle to tie Helio Castroneves of Team Penske for most wins on the circuit. Dixon won the first race of the Detroit doubleheader last year, took over the point lead with a victory at Texas Motor Speedway the following weekend and went on to collect his fifth season title.

Scott Dixon paced the field on Sunday at Belle Isle.

The IndyCar Series returns to action Saturday with the DXC Technology 600 _”America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” _ at TMS. Live coverage from Fort Worth is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

TMS’ schedule includes a two-hour practice Thursday starting at 7 p.m., local time, to simulate conditions drivers likely will encounter Saturday night.

“That should really help because most of the time we’ve gone in kind of blind, right?” said Dixon, a three-time winner on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval. “You didn’t really know how much grip you were going to get in that night portion of the race and it’s a good job for INDYCAR to add that. It adds another running day to what we typically do, but I think it will be beneficial for not just the drivers but also for the series to get that nailed down.”

One day after last weekend’s opening race was delayed and shortened to a 75-minute time limit, Sunday’s event was run to the full 70-lap distance. Despite ideal conditions, the race saw five full-course cautions for incidents on the tight and bumpy circuit.

Dixon dodged the chaos and waited out a six-minute red-flag stoppage when teammate Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden crashed in Turn 1 with five laps to go. Dixon easily held off Ericsson on the Lap 67 restart and pulled comfortably away to victory.

“It’s pretty interesting how INDYCAR right now is stopping the races and making sure they get proper restarts,” Dixon said. “It’s definitely great for the fans. A bit nerve-wracking for the drivers, I think. You kind of just want it to be done. I would have been happy for it to end under caution. It wasn’t going to go that way.”

Ericsson, who joined the IndyCar Series this year after five seasons in Formula One, was pleased with his second-place finish in the No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The Swede’s best result in his first seven races had been seventh at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

“It was amazing, my first podium since 2013 (in GP2), and you just have to thank the whole team at Arrow SPM,” Ericsson said. “They work so hard all year and we had so much bad luck, and I’ve done mistakes when we’ve been looking really good. So, to finally get a result like this and be on the podium, I think is a great reward for all of the hard work. Now, I think we can build on this.”

Will Power recovered from gearbox damage sustained in a five-car incident on Lap 1 that stalled his car on course on Lap 5 to finish third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. A native of Australia, Power is a two-time Detroit winner and the 2014 series champion.

Power’s teammates didn’t fare as well. Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden were involved in separate incidents in Turn 3 and finished 17th and 19th, respectively. Pagenaud began the Detroit weekend with a one-point lead over Newgarden after sweeping the Month of May events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ the sixth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix on the track’s 2.439-mile road-course and the 103rd edition of the Indy 500 on the 2.5-mile oval.

But the Frenchman was in the middle of the five-car incident on Sunday’s first lap. He sustained damage to the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet that sent it to the paddock for repairs and returned later, but finished 12 laps off Dixon’s pace.

Newgarden, who won Race 1 in Detroit on Saturday, started on-pole Sunday but came together in Turn 3 with Canadian James Hinchcliffe and Alexander Rossi in a battle for position on Lap 33. Sustaining damage to the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet that necessitated repairs, Newgarden finished 21 laps down.

Despite the outcome, Newgarden retained the point lead after eight of 17 races. The 2017 series champion is 15 points up on Rossi, who finished fifth Sunday in the No. 27 Honda fielded by Andretti Auto sport, and 25 points ahead of Pagenaud.

Dixon began the weekend in the Motor City tied for fourth in the standings with Japanese ace Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 47 points out of first, with a maximum of 54 points available to the winner of both races. Dixon exited Detroit in fourth, 52 points behind Newgarden.

“At least we’re kind of in the mix,” said Dixon, whose 18-year tenure with Ganassi is the longest for any driver in team history. “But as you can see, it changes so quickly. We’ll just keep our head down and try to make the best of it. Going for the wins is kind of what you got to do. I think with the competition right now, it’s never one other _ you’re fighting a constant of five or six people. After Indy, it actually got really tight for the first five or six. Previous to Indy, it seemed like two or three kind of stretched out.

“This year I think is going to be another year, especially from this point, you’re going to have to be really consistent to get a championship. It’s how we won last year. We did have three wins, but we were able to turn bad weekends into good ones. We’ve seen that from Josef. Some pretty average qualifying positions. Him and the team have been able to pull out some great podiums, some big wins when they really needed it.”


NTT IndyCar Series point standings:  1, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 316; 2, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 301; 3, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 291; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 264; 5, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 255; 6, Will Power, Team Penske, 232; 7, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 219; 8, James Hinchcliffe, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, 179; 9, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 175; 10, Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing, 165.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, June 4 2019
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