Detroit — Defending IndyCar series champion Scott Dixon went from zero to hero Sunday afternoon on Belle Isle by winning Race 2 of the Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader.
Dixon, who won Race 1 on the 13-turn, 2.3-mile street course on the island last year, had his first DNF in two years on Saturday when he clipped the inside wall, then lost his steering and went into the tire barrier to end his day, finishing 22nd — dead last.
But on Sunday Dixon was his usual masterful self, tossing aside his disappointing finish in Race 1 with his first win of the season in his No. 9 Honda with Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sitting in his pit stand with Dixon’s team owner, Pittsburgh native Chip Ganassi.
Dixon held a 3.2 second lead with five laps remaining before rookie Felix Rosenqvist crashed while running seventh.
Rosenqvist’s mishap led to a red flag condition to set up a final 3-lap shootout with rookie Marcus Ericsson, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi trying to chase down Dixon, who had runner-up finishes at St. Petersburg, Alabama and the Indy Grand Prix, desperately wanting a win.
Hunter-Reay finished fourth and Rossi fifth.
Dixon had a great restart and went on to win by 1.9 seconds with Ericsson finishing a season-best second and Power third.
It was career win No. 45 for five-time series champion Dixon, who has now won three times on Belle Isle.
“I felt like a bit of an idiot yesterday, especially clipping that inside wall, honestly when I hit it I didn’t think that it was going to break the suspension, but it did and it ended that quickly,” Dixon said. “Today it was all about redemption and the team now with the strategy, the car was super fast and we were able to get the mileage that we needed.
“It’s definitely pretty interesting how IndyCar right now is stopping races and getting proper restarts so it’s great for the fans. It’s a bit nerve wracking for the drivers, you want it to just be done and I would have been happy for it to end on a caution, but it wasn’t going to go that way. We’re just happy to get the first win this year out of the way. Points-wise it was a big day for us. I thought when you get to that 100-point deficit, and we were pretty close to it after yesterday’s result, and we almost halved that today and we’ll keep working on that.”
Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden won Race 1 and took the pole for Race 2, entering the race with the points lead. Newgarden finished 19th Sunday, but still holds a 15-point lead on Rossi, a 25-point lead on Simon Pagenaud with Dixon sitting fourth, 52 points back.
Ericsson couldn’t reel in Dixon, but was happy to finish second.
“I’m so proud, it’s been one of those years when we’ve had good pace pretty much every race but for some reason there’s always been something that happened to make it not come together point-wise,” said Ericsson, the 28-year-old Swede who competed in Formula One from 2014-18. “It’s just a great feeling to be on the podium. We executed very well, the team did great in pit stops.”
The weather — sunny and 70 degrees — was also far different than Race 1 Saturday when inclement weather delayed the race for 1 1/2 hours, then shortened the event to a 75-minute race with the first 20 minutes run in rainy conditions.
Newgarden and Rossi had run 1-2 for most of the weekend with Rossi, the Indianapolis 500 runner-up, finishing second Saturday.
Newgarden took advantage of a strategy move to win Race 1 when Team Penske President and race strategist Tim Cindric had him pit earlier than the majority of the drivers and fortunately he was in the pits when Ed Jones crashed into the fire barrier to set out a caution, enabling him to take the lead when green flag conditions resumed after Rossi pitted.
The doubleheader weekend was a disappointing one for Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud who had a great month of May when he won the Indy Grand Prix and Indy 500 to step on Belle Isle with the IndyCar points lead.
But, after a sixth-place finish in Race 1, Pagenaud ran into the back end of Power’s car heading into Turn 3 of the opening lap, ultimately making things difficult for both drivers.
Still, Power did a great job of making his way back up front to finish on the podium. Pagenaud didn'r fare as well, falling a dozen laps off the pace and finishing 17th.
“It felt like a win,” Power said of his podium finish, knowing he was fortunate to get his No. 12 Chevrolet started with the pace car just 200 yards away from passing him to put him a lap down. “Today, the car stalled on the track (after the first-lap accident), but I kept my lap, and then my gear, because I got hit from behind, it damaged my gearbox. The gears weren’t working so it had to be on emergency mode. Then, it fixed itself somehow and then I was able to go fast and race hard.
“Yes. I’m very happy with today. When I was running 12th, I saw people peel off (to the pits) and said, ‘Alright, I’m going to lay down some qualifying laps and make a lot of ground here,’ and that’s what we did.”
Things also didn’t go well for Newgarden whose chances for a sweep ended by the midway point.
Newgarden, running near the front with Rossi, got into trouble when he was slowed down by James Hinchcliffe, who had just gotten out of the pits, went on the inside of Hinchcliffe heading into Turn 3 and spun heading into the corner on Lap 33. Rossi also got loose and tapped Hinchcliffe into Newgarden.
While Newgarden and Hinchcliffe were locked into the tire barrier, Rossi spun his No. 27 NAPA Honda around and continued to keep his hopes of another podium finish alive. Rossi finished fifth.
“I should have made a better decision there, feel sorry for my guys, feel sorry for my team,” Newgarden said. “I actually thought we were fine and then I think I just picked up too much marbles on the inside. It was just too slick and then as soon as I tried to turn I lost the rear, just picked up too much debris.
“I should have analyzed that better, went to the left. He (Hinchcliffe) was guarding the middle and that pushed me all the way to the inside line which is where all the debris is at. The pick-up that you get in the tires is going to cause problems for you. You saw that even Rossi lost it in that corner. I should have gone left and it would have worked out better.”