Long Beach Race a Triumph for Honda, Dixon, Ganassi, Cadillac

Dixon earned his 57th win, second only to A.J. Foyt's 67 - James Black photo for Penske Entertainment
Scott Dixon taught a aster class in speed, tire and fuel conservation at Long Beach – James Black photo for Penske Entertainment

School was in session this weekend in the oceanside burg of Long Beach, Calif. Scott Dixon’s – and Chip Ganassi’s Racing’s – master class in saving renewable Shell fuel and Guayale Firestone tires while driving his Honda-powered Dallara as quickly as possible, netted the six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion, now the owner of 57 victories, the win in the 49th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Dixon, who stretched his fuel for more of the 85 laps contested early Sunday afternoon than any of his 26 competitors, has long been known for his ability to feather a throttle and still keep himself in the mix to win races. It’s something he’s done as the longest-serving member of Chip Ganassi’s myriad race teams; Dixon joined Ganassi’s squad in 2002 after working with PacWest Racing.

Was this his greatest drive? Well, that remains to be seen, but the manner in which Dixon, who started the race in eighth position, using the primary, rather than alternate green Guayule Firestone Firehawk tires, managed his equipment exceptionally well and ran to the end will become the stuff of legends. Not that Dixon needs more ammo in his sprint to being an INDYCAR legend, but the fact of the matter is, after the one and only caution of the 85-lap race, he minded his time until he could get the clean air that would allow the Kiwi his ability to earn his 57th win.

Dixon earned his 57th win, second only to A.J. Foyt’s 67 – James Black photo for Penske Entertainment

Only the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, A.J. Foyt has more wins than Dixon, now 43 years old. Foyt has 67 wins and Dixon isn’t sure he’s got the goods to add another ten wins to his resume. If he keeps driving as well as he did this Sunday, anything is possible, and Dixon does feel the pressure to perform, as does every racer. It’s tough to stay at the top, something Dixon has done since his first 2003 championship.

After the race, as everyone tried to figure out how he managed his fuel for most of the race, Dixon noted, “Sometimes these strategies go the other way. Luckily we were on the safe side of the fuel. The number I was getting was maybe not the actual number; it was bigger than what I was getting, but it was nice to have that safe factor in there. We drove the car back to the pits, did a little burnout. There was sufficient fuel there,” he allowed with a smile.

By not using up his 200 seconds of push-to-pass while his followers, who included Team Penske’s Chevrolet-powered Josef Newgarden, who ended up fourth, and fellow Honda runners Colton Herta of Andretti Global, finishing second, and teammate and reigning champion Alex Palou in third, fully used up their extra power, Dixon was able to pull out a nearly one-second advantage (0.9798-sec) at the close. The field was slowed by a single caution period on laps 15-18 when rookie Christian Rasmussen of Ed Carpenter Racing spun out  at the fourth turn in his Chevy-powered Dallara and nearly collected Jack Harvey’s Dale Coyne Racing Honda (Harvey did have to pit and finished 25th in the 27-car field).

The all-Honda podium of (l to r) Colton Herta, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou – Penske Entertainment photo

It was during that caution that Dixon pitted for fuel; he would go on to lead the most laps, 42, while pole sitter Felix Rosenqvist, driving for Meyer Shank Racing in his Honda-Dallara, led a single lap, the first! He was overtaken by Will Power, who would lead through to the sole caution. Other lap leaders included Newgarden, Herta, and last year’s winner Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Global. Behind Dixon, Herta and Palou on podium, Newgarden, Andretti’s Marcus Ericsson, Power, Kirkwood, Romain Grosjean from Juncos Hollinger Racing (Chevy), Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi of Arrow McLaren rounded out the top 10.

Fully 18 cars finished on the lead lap, with A.J. Foyt Racing’s Sting Ray Robb the final car to complete 85 tours of the 1.968-mile circuit. Rasmussen was the sole retirement following his spin and shunt; Scott McLaughlin finished 26th and 14 laps down, the Team Penske driver being the final car on-track after the checkered flags flew for Dixon’s victory. Among the rookie class, Theo Pourchaire, a last-minute stand-in for injured Arrow McLaren Chevy racer David Malukas, earned 11th place, while Linus Lundqvist (Ganassi Honda) was 13th, Ganassi’s Kyffin Simpson was 19th, followed by Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Nolan Siegel in his Honda and Tom Blomqvist 22nd in Meyer Shank’s Honda.

Pole man Felix Rosenqvist of eyer Shank Racing led a single lap – James Black photo for Penske Entertainment

As the laps wound down on this sunny and cool Sunday by the Pacific Ocean, Dixon’s need to conserve fuel and his ability to keep Newgarden, and then Herta and Palou in his wake became treacherous. Dixon pitted on the 51st lap, along with Will Power. That put Newgarden in the lead, followed by Herta, Palou, Ericsson, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, Rinus Veejay of Ed Carpenter Racing (Chevy), Rossi, Pourchaire and Dixon in 10th place. Newgarden, on the 54th lap had almost 25 seconds in hand but needed to pit, which he did on lap 58.

By the 62nd lap, all pit stops had been completed, and with no caution in sight, Dixon had 5.3 seconds in hand over Newgarden and another five seconds to Herta, Power, Palou, Kirkwood, Ericsson, McLaughlin, Rosenqvist and Grosjean (in tenth place). Dixon, as well as everyone else in the top five, was on used green Guayule Firestone Firehawk tires. With ten to go, Newgarden was right on Dixon’s tail, but he had Herta right behind him and the latter touched the former in the tight hairpin turn, the final corner before the start/finish line at Long Beach. That touch ended Newgarden’s opportunity to catch the Kiwi, as Herta assumed the job of chasing “six-time.”

He wasn’t able to do it and Dixon was told, on the final lap, to use everything he had available by strategist and team leader Mike Hull. The stats accompanying this victory are plenty stout: Scott Dixon now has 57 wins to his credit, he’s won four of the last six points races, he earned his second Long Beach victory (2015 was the first) and there will be a few angry men as the tour leaves this seaside town (Newgarden and Herta, just for starters).

With Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Vande driing his Cadillac GTP, Chip Ganassi earned two big wins in Long Beach – Mike Levitt photo for IMSA Racing

This wasn’t Chip Ganassi’s only victory in Long Beach. On Saturday, during IMSA’s sprint race of one hour and 40 minutes, Ganassi’s Cadillac Racing team earned the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship victory with four-time INDYCAR champ Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande sharing the cockpit. They didn’t change Michelin tires on their single pit stop to maintain track position gained in the pits and garner Ganassi’s sixth overall and premier class (GRP) Long Beach victory in seven attempts. Chip likes winners, as he always says. He’ll get a week-long opportunity to enjoy these two victories before the NTT INDYCAR SERIES conducts its third race – of 17 total – this coming weekend, the Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix powered by AmFirst, set for Sunday, April 28 at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

By Anne Proffit

About Anne Proffit 1269 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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