Monday, Mar 12 08:24am
AUTHOR: Simon Chapman

Scott Dixon finishes sixth in wild IndyCar opener despite penalties

Scott Dixon claimed sixth in one of the toughest races in recent memory for the four-time IndyCar Series champion.

Dixon lay low in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg as he battled to make his way through the field several times over. By the race’s end, Dixon had made six trips to the pit lane—two of those for penalty infringements.

The opening race of the season began in dramatic fashion.

The first lap kicked off with a nearly disastrous spin for Australian Will Power. As he exited turn two he lit up his tyres following light contact with pole sitter Robert Wickens of Canada and spun 360 degrees. Fortunately he got back underway but quickly fell from second to 11th.

Moments later, Tony Kanaan spun out of ninth and fell to the back of the pack following contact with Zack Veach.

Dixon got caught up in a battle for seventh with former champion Simon Pagenaud and Gabby Chaves—Dixon fell to eighth.

Charlie Kimball speared off the road at the final corner and parked his car there. That brought the safety car out for the first full-course caution on lap three.

The race settled down from thereon and Dixon moved up to sixth. Come lap 22, Dixon made his first pit stop of the day for soft compound tyres.

Matheus Leist crashed out on lap 29. The car looked to understeer out of turn three and clouted the wall heavily. That brought out the second safety car of the day. Dixon restarted ninth following the pit stop cycle.

Come lap 36, and Dixon hit trouble. The Kiwi was fighting to get back some positions when he went too deep into turn one. He was eying up a move on James Hinchcliffe, but got onto the white paint and slid into the back of last year’s Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato ahead.

He was lucky to get his car restarted quickly as the safety car came out and managed to not lose a lap. He pitted, however, and put on a new wing. Dixon was sent to the back of the pack for avoidable contact.

Strategy proved to be a pivotal move for Dixon, who pitted under the yellow for more fuel. That gave him an advantage later on in the race.

10 laps after the fourth caution and Jack Harvey brought out the fifth full-course caution when he got a puncture on lap 40. At the final turn he went into the wall and parked his car on the inside of the corner.

It was a needed reprieve for Dixon who had lost a handful of time and was rearwards of the top 20 drivers.

Dixon pushed hard and got back inside the top 10 as other pitted. Dixon came in on lap 78 from seventh on the road, however, he got given a drive-through penalty for a speeding violation in the pit lane.

Somehow he managed to push on. The spread out field meant he didn’t lose too much time and managed to climb back up the order. Dixon set about laying down the fastest lap of the race and pushed onwards into the top 10.

He got past his teammate Ed Jones on lap 97 and was into seventh. Meanwhile, at the front of the field, Alexander Rossi chased IndyCar Series debutant Robert Wickens for the win.

Rossi got closer and closer to Wickens’ gearbox, but with 10 laps to go he locked up into turn four and lost all the ground he’d made up. He was lucky to get away with it, however, as the safety car came out with eight laps to go.

The race restarted with four laps remaining. Rossi got loose at turn 14 and again lost ground to Wickens. There was more drama to come.

Ex-Formula 1 driver Max Chilton put his car in the wall and stalled as tried to get away. A shot full-course caution was called and Chilton’s car was recovered. A quick turn around meant the race went green with two laps to go.

Rossi restarted in second and was right on wicken’s gearbox. Meanwhile, Dixon hung back in seventh.

As the field came to the line with two laps to go, Rossi dived down the inside of Wickens who left the door well open for an attack. Rossi slid on the painted tarmac and locked up his rear wheels.

Watch the final few laps:

Rossi clouted the side of Wickens’ car, which sent the race leader into a spin. Wickens hit the wall while Rossi carried on but down in third.

With Wickens out of the race Dixon moved up to sixth.

A final full-course caution was called as Wickens lay stranded in the middle of the road. That meant Sebastien Bourdais crossed the line in first ahead of Graham Rahal and Rossi.

Rossi wasn’t penalised for the contact, which was deemed to be a racing incident.

Photo: Scott Dixon