Dixon Makes Magic To Pull Off Improbable Long Beach Win

Scott Dixon proved yet again Sunday that almost nothing is impossible for him behind the wheel of a race car, winning the Acura Long Beach Grand Prix with a dramatic blend of patience and aggression over the closing laps.

Nobody in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES saves fuel better than Dixon, and he drove the last 34 laps of the 85-lap street race on one tank of Shell 100% Renewable Race Fuel in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda to hold off a hard-charging Colton Herta – who was on a more conventional, less risky fuel strategy – by .9798 of a second.

“That was tough; that was really tough,” Dixon said. “Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to make it, and they kept giving me a (fuel) number, and it just wasn’t getting … I was close but not enough. Luckily, we were on the safe side there.”

Dixon, who started eighth, even had enough fuel left in his Honda engine to perform a celebratory burnout after claiming his first victory of the season and the 57th win of his legendary career. It was his second victory on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile Long Beach temporary street circuit, joining his triumph in 2015.

Reigning series champion Alex Palou finished third in the No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Series points leader Josef Newgarden placed a disappointing fourth in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after looking to be Dixon’s biggest threat until Herta’s No. 26 Gainbridge Honda fielded by Andretti Global made contact with him late in the race.

Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top five in the No. 28 Delaware Life Honda fielded by Andretti Global, as that team and Chip Ganassi Racing each claimed two of the top five finishing positions.

The 27-car field splintered into two groups of differing strategies on Lap 15 when the only caution period of the race was triggered by Christian Rasmussen’s spin and wall contact in Turn 4 in the No. 20 GuyCare Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing.

Then race leader Will Power and Dixon led a group of drivers that dove into the pits during that caution, with Kyle Kirkwood, Marcus Armstrong, Graham Rahal and Linus Lundqvist among the other leading lights adopting that tactic.

That strategy play handed the lead to Newgarden on Lap 17, and he kept the top spot when green-flag racing resumed on Lap 19.

For the next 45 laps, the early-stopping drivers used every tactic in their bag of skills to save fuel, lifting the throttle early in corners and babying it on acceleration. Every engineer’s calculation on the pit wall showed the margin to make it to the finish on just one more stop would be razor-thin without another caution period.

Meanwhile, the rest of the contenders entered the pits between Laps 30 and 33 for their first stops, with Herta going the longest to Lap 33. The fuel-sipping group then pitted for the final time on Laps 52-53.

The differing strategies then exploded into a crescendo of drama after the second group pitted for the final time between Laps 58-62.

Newgarden emerged in second, about three seconds behind Dixon, after every contender finished their final stops. Newgarden’s tires were seven laps fresher than Dixon’s, and he didn’t have to worry about saving fuel.

Nearly everyone in the sold-out reserved seat grandstands figured it would only be a matter of time before Newgarden passed Dixon for the lead and perhaps an unbeaten start to the season, as he won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding on March 10.

Everyone but Dixon, that is.

Dixon masterfully balanced saving fuel with short bursts of push-to-pass to parry Newgarden over the closing laps. Still, Newgarden drove to within a half-second of Dixon on Lap 71 and appeared to be biding his time.

Newgarden then pulled close to Dixon’s gearbox entering the hairpin leading to the long front straightaway on Shoreline Drive on Lap 77 and appeared to be setting him up for a passing attempt on the straight. But that never happened, as Herta nudged Newgarden from behind entering the hairpin. The impact lifted Newgarden’s rear wheels off the ground and engaged his anti-stall function, letting Herta and Palou pass him and dropping him to fourth.

“It seemed pretty obvious,” Newgarden said. “He just misjudged it and ran into me.

“I’m not saying we were going to get Dixon. It was very, very difficult for me to get the run I needed to. I think traffic was going to provide me an opportunity, so that run right there, I was really excited about it. I think that was going to be my last chance. Never know if I would have pulled it off or not.”

Said Herta: “I think he (Newgarden) set up pretty wide and was cutting back in and was a little slower at apex, but ultimately it’s up to me to carry the right speed into the corner and not run into the back of people, and I just misjudged it.”

That incident gave Dixon breathing room from behind as he navigated lapped traffic ahead. Herta pulled to within .328 of a second with three laps remaining, but Dixon was given clearance on the last lap to use all the fuel-gulping push-to-pass he had left and pulled away for the win.

It was yet another chapter in Dixon’s saga of pulling victory from nowhere with fuel saving and pit wall strategy. Just last season, he earned unlikely wins on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and World Wide Technology Raceway in August with similar tactics.

“It was way up there,” Dixon said when asked where this win ranked among his strategic victories. “The stress level was high. Those guys were coming fast and strong. I think we were off by a lap or two of making it easy. Other fuel races I’ve done I’ve had it under control for the full stint.”

Reigning FIA Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire finished 11th in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, the top rookie in the race. Frenchman Pourchaire is substituting for David Malukas, continuing to recover from surgery to repair left wrist injuries suffered in a preseason mountain biking accident.

There’s just one week until the next race, the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix powered by AmFirst on Sunday, April 28 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Live coverage starts at 1 p.m. ET on NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

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