It is a fantastic four for Scott Dixon in 2020 and the Kiwi has his Chip Ganassi team all to thank as a rapid final pitstop gifted the championship leader the race win in the opening 250-mile affair at the World Wide Technology Raceway.
A race punctuated by a mid-race sprinkle of rain, three separate drivers all shared time at the front of the field and only the pitstop phases would see the race lead trade hands.
Will Power led from the green flag to the opening pitstop but relinquished first to Pato O’Ward who kept a hard-charging Dixon at bay until the last stop with 37 laps. The Kiwi would narrowly beat the McLaren off pitroad after a rapid stop to usurp the race lead, going to clinch his 50th career victory.
Second would ultimately go to now two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato who played an alternative strategy to play himself into contention for the win, taking the fight to Dixon all the way to the chequered flag. The margin between the two at the line was just 0.140s.
An ungainly start line crash punctuated the opening lap triggered by a jump start by Alex Palou which led to Oliver Askew drilling into the rear of Simon Pageanud. The 2016 champion was then pitched uncontrollably into the rear of Alexander Rossi who collected the inside barrier on contact.
The calamitous start saw three Andretti Autosport Cars pick up damage with Rossi and Zach Veach retiring on the spot.
By the time the field had meandered behind the pace car for 12 laps, pole-sitter Power nailed the restart to hold a five-tenth lead over O’Ward as Dixon settled in behind for third.
Fortunately for the Kiwi, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Marcus Ericsson was sitting comfortably in his wake and allowing Dixon to zero in on O’Ward who was beginning to fall off the tail of Power.
The margin between Dixon and the leaders began to ebb and flow as they diced their way through the first profusion of lapped traffic which included a wounded Pagenaud who proved to be a mobile chicane for several drivers.
All the front runners were committing to a three-stop strategy with O’Ward the first of the front runners to ditch his used rubber for fresh boots and top up of fuel.
Power responded one lap later, but the Mexican was able to use his undercut to cycle into the provisional lead. Dixon opted to stay out for another three laps and surprisingly emerged ahead of Power who had slumped to provisional third after the opening stint.
The leaders run in a processional for most of the second stint until Power made the aberration to box early on Lap 101, leaving O’Ward and Dixon alone up the front until a second caution came out just a handful of tours later as a gentle shower of rain sprinkled the circuit.
The weather radar suggested the inclement weather would quickly pass but the question was concerning fuel for O’Ward and Dixon. The pits remained closed under caution for ten laps after which most of the field dove in for their second pitstop.
A rapid stop by Dixon wasn’t enough for the Iceman who narrowly lost the race off pitroad against O’Ward but two remained at the head of the queue as Power had gone a lap down courtesy of pitting under green and had plummeted to 11th.
On Lap 121 race officials were satisfied the weather had stabilised enough to resume racing and Dixon immediately went on the assault of the McLaren racer, edging O’Ward along as they looked to pull away from Ericsson in third.
Power had found himself well out of sequence and thus made his final stop on Lap 138 in a desperate bid to throw a spanner in the works in case of a late caution.
O’Ward and Dixon both made their final stops of the race on 163 with a critical stop which could well determine the race victory, and Chip Ganassi put no foot wrong as a lightning stop ensured Dixon stole the lead away from O’Ward on the pit exit.
O’Ward would then yield another spot to Sato who was blazing on fresh tyres and had made light work of Ericsson just laps earlier. A two-second margin to Dixon was slashed to within five-tenths with ten laps in hand.
Lapped traffic was perhaps Dixon’s saviour as Sato pursued like a bat out of hell but despite coming as close as two-tenths was able to deter the focus of the Iceman whose fourth win of the season strengthens his vice-like grip on the championship. It also becomes Dixon’s first win at Gateway since it became a regular fixture on the IndyCar calendar in 2017 and he now has won 50% of all races this year.
O’Ward hung onto third for a standout podium performance.
Dixon will start sixth in tomorrow’s second 200-lapper which is slated to begin from 7.40 am NZT.