Scott Dixon was knocked out of the 2021 IndyCar championship fight after an arduous race at Laguna Seca this morning.
Needing to finish within five points of his teammate Alex Palou to keep his title ambition alive, Dixon combated a lack of speed and heavy damage to his car to finish down in 13th.
Championship leader Palou finished second, behind Colton Herta and just ahead of Romain Grosjean to pad out his points buffer.
Palou will head to Long Beach next weekend with a 35-point margin over Pato O’Ward.
“We did the most we could today,” Palou said. “It was Herta’s day today, so I am happy with P2.”
Penske’s Josef Newgarden is also mathematically in the title fight but will need a nearly perfect weekend at Long Beach to challenge Palou.
Dixon’s race began on a strong note as he made his way from eighth to fifth by lap two.
Alexander Rossi then spun out from second place after a failed lunge on race leader Herta.
The incident elevated Dixon to fourth. He was soon gifted another free position when Will Power returned to the pitlane with an engine issue.
A wily overtake by Grosjean at the Corkscrew corner dropped Dixon back to fourth before most of the front runners made their first pitstop.
Herta and Palou donned their sole set of new red tyres. Dixon went the alternative way and fitted the slower black tyres for his second stint.
Dixon then became a sitting duck as he was attacked in all directions by drivers around him on fresh reds.
The Kiwi’s pace was largely uncompetitive, and his was race was further compounded when Takuma Sato body-checked him.
Sato spun on his own at the Corkscrew and rolled back into the path of an innocent Dixon.
Dixon’s Honda picked up floor and sidepod damage, disrupting the downforce of the car.
He would make another stop for black tyres before finally getting his sticker red tyres for the sprint to the chequered flag. But he finished a long way down on his title rivals.
Dixon’s Kiwi compatriot Scott McLaughlin had a clean race to finish 12th. Still, he lost ground in the Rookie of the Year standings after a podium result for Grosjean.
Grosjean benefitted from a late final pitstop for red tyres and was comfortably the quickest car on the circuit in the closing stages.
The ex-Formula 1 driver made light work of O’Ward and Graham Rahal to put him on the rostrum with 15 laps in hand.
Lapping between one and two seconds faster than Herta and Palou, Grosjean was rapidly closing in on a possible shock win.
He was somewhat held-up by Jimmie Johnson, a lap down, with Grosjean compelled to muscle his way past the former NASCAR star.
Ultimately, lap traffic nerfed Grosjean’s assault, and he settled for third.
“The last stint was very fun,” Grosjean said. “From P13 to P3 today was great. Laguna Seca I love you.”
Herta, the youngest-ever IndyCar race winner, picked up his fifth career victory.
He remains the only winner at Laguna Seca since the Californian circuit returned to the IndyCar schedule in 2019.