Under a gloomy sky, the Genesys 300 contest got underway 35 minutes early as IndyCar attempted to squeeze it into the TV window – and without pushing back the first race of this double-header.
With qualifying having been cancelled due to rain delaying practice, championship points ensured Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing led the field to the green, ahead of Team Penske’s Will Power, Scott Dixon (Ganassi), Colton Herta (Andretti Autosport), Simon Pagenaud (Penske) and Jack Harvey (Meyer Shank Racing).
Palou made a superb start allowing Dixon to follow him through into second ahead of Power and, on lap three, Dixon took Palou around the outside of the front straight kink to take the lead.
Dixon was leading by 0.3 seconds from Palou by lap 20, with Power hanging 1s back, taking care not to cook his tyres in the dirty air of the car in front, and behind him Herta did the same. With the race possible in three stops, drivers were having to nurse their Firestones – some as early as lap 25 – as they started vibrating due to wear rather than blisters.
Graham Rahal ducked his Rahal Letterman Lanigan machine into the pits on lap 50, and that triggered an exodus from the racing surface.
The yellow flew then flew a few laps later as Sebastien Bourdais was tagged by Josef Newgarden exiting Turn 2 as Bourdais reacted to Herta slowing for the pits. The impact sent the Foyt driver hard, backward, into the outside wall. He was checked at the infield medical centre, released and cleared to drive in Sunday’s race.
Those who had yet to stop and couldn’t while the pits were closed, included Dixon, Palou, Harvey, Herta, Newgarden, and McLaughlin. They were allowed in on lap 64, and those who had pitted under green, before the yellow, found themselves shuffled down the order. Most prominent of these was Power, now in 12th.
Dixon and Palou were able to resume in a Ganassi 1-2 ahead of Herta, Harvey and Alexander Rossi, while Newgarden was moved to the back of the pack as punishment for avoidable contact.
Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Jack Harvey, Meyer Shank Racing Honda, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport Honda, start
Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images
Harvey in fourth kept the pressure on Herta as Rossi trailed him but stayed ahead of McLaughlin, who now found himself as Penske’s lead runner.
Dixon went to lap 126 before making his second stop, leaving Palou up front ahead of Pietro Fittipaldi and Power as the rest of the leaders ducked into pitlane. Power gave it just one more lap, Palou two more and Fittipaldi three more.
Dixon’s lead over the next best car was 3.4s, whereas Felix Rosenqvist who’d pitted on lap 118 was up to second for Arrow McLaren SP. Behind him ran McLaughlin, while Palou was down to fourth.
Rosenqvist moved to within half a second of Dixon on lap 150 as they picked their way through traffic, while McLaughlin moved in on the Swede ahead, briefly obliging him to defend the inside line.
Then James Hinchcliffe lost it in the dirty air behind Rosenqvist as the Arrow McLaren SP driver lapped him, he slid on the long ‘PJ1’ patch on the track between Turn 1 and 2 and made heavy left-rear contact with the SAFER barrier on the outside of Turn 2. He was checked at the medical centre and was soon released.
The field dived for the pits as soon as it opened, and Dixon emerged in front, but now McLaughlin was his nearest challenger for Rosenqvist had fallen to 12th after a slow stop and then being slowed on exiting his box.
Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda takes the checker flag
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Behind Dixon and McLaughlin at the restart were Pato O’Ward and Palou, with Herta having fallen to fifth during the pitstop exchange, ahead of Jack Harvey, Rossi, Newgarden, Graham Rahal and Pagenaud.
Dixon sprinted away from McLaughlin and O’Ward on the restart, while Newgarden and Rahal deposed Harvey, despite the Meyer Shank car making a heavy defence against the RLL driver.
The drama wasn’t over yet as, on lap 191, Herta had to duck into the pits with a problem that was causing his right-rear brake to catch fire. The St. Petersburg winner was done for the day.
Dixon resisted the pressure from McLaughlin to score his fifth TMS win, the 51st of his career – just one behind Mario Andretti – and took the lead of the championship.
O’Ward finished 1.5s down to claim the first podium of the season for Arrow McLaren SP, and move up to fourth in the championship, ahead of Palou who scored his best oval finish and slipped to second in the points race.
Newgarden salvaged sixth behind the charging Rahal.
Race 1 result