WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Scott Dixon made it home on fumes to complete a perfect weekend at Watkins Glen International, where he led every session and won his second Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season.
Dixon made it home as others faced a late splash-and-dash or risked stopping late on in a chaotic race, the second to last of 2016.
But while the finish was dramatic, much of Dixon’s weekend wasn’t – it was controlled from start to finish in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
In the race itself, Dixon led 50 of 60 laps, and also got a bit lucky in terms of timing on the yellows that hit – something that has caught him out in the past, most notably at Toronto.
Dixon pitted for the first time on Lap 14 and a lap later, the first yellow came out following a tire blow-out for Mikhail Aleshin at the top of the Esses at Turn 4.
Others such as championship sparring partners Will Power and Simon Pagenaud had not pitted, nor had Dixon’s teammate Tony Kanaan. So that meant Dixon and teammate Max Chilton would cycle through to the front while those who’d need to pit under yellow would cycle back.
Dixon headed the field for the first 13 laps, then led the majority of the middle stanza from Laps 16 to 36, barring the next round of stops.
There were two crazy moments in the interim. The first came when Charlie Kimball and Graham Rahal collided exiting Turn 1. Rahal blamed Kimball; Kimball was more introspective post-race.
The second was a three-wide battle between Sebastien Bourdais, Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi going into the Inner Loop on Lap 36. Bourdais squeezed through the middle and caught air over the curbs, but landed and managed to avoid a potentially nasty accident.
The race took a turn towards its nail-biting finish following a dramatic moment in the championship chase. The fourth member of the Ganassi quartet beyond Dixon, Chilton and Kanaan, Charlie Kimball, got a huge run on Will Power going into the Esses on Lap 39. But Power apparently didn’t see him and moved up the road into him on corner exit.
Power crashed out of the race and that meant the day would be better for title sparring partner Pagenaud. Power was checked and released from the infield medical center, but has not been cleared to drive owing to concussion-like symptoms. Per INDYCAR, further evaluations are expected this week.
Alas, the yellow and the subsequent final round of stops meant that with fuel stints usually in the 17 to 18-lap range, there would then be a longer run to the finish of 19 laps.
It meant a handful of different strategies were in play as drivers needed to save to make it home.
Helio Castroneves had stopped on Lap 36 and in theory, needed less fuel once he stopped with the leaders five laps later on Lap 41. But he pitted for a splash on Lap 57 along with Kimball and Chilton.
James Hinchcliffe was promoted into second and trailed Dixon by 18.1507 seconds. But he didn’t make it home, running out on Turn 8 on the final lap. It dropped him from a near-certain second-place into 18th.
Dixon did make it home, finishing 16.5 seconds clear of Josef Newgarden, who’d had a less eventful race than the rest of the field. Castroneves was third ahead of Daly, whose team was surprised as he was that he made it home. Bourdais was less than thrilled with Daly after the race, but still managed to come home in fifth.
Kimball ended his eventful race in sixth ahead of Pagenaud, the points leader, in seventh with Alexander Rossi, RC Enerson and Max Chilton making it three more rookies – along with Daly – in the top 10. Enerson had been caught out on the first yellow when running seventh, but recovered nicely in his second IndyCar start.
Juan Pablo Montoya and Takuma Sato had late spins that dropped them to 13th and 17th, respectively. Despite wholesale changes in the morning warmup, Ryan Hunter-Reay could only end 14th in his 200th IndyCar start. Hinchcliffe, as noted, was 18th while apparent right rear suspension issues – and the tire not being solid – helped knock Kanaan to 19th, the second-worst finish of his season.
Power’s accident left him 20th ahead of Rahal and Aleshin, who were also out of the race.
Unofficially heading to the final race of the season, Pagenaud leads Power by 43 points.
“Daytona is about one thing and one thing only: It’s just the watch,” said Bryan Sellers, the 2018 GTD Series champion who still is seeking his first Rolex 24 at Daytona victory after 13 starts. “You grow up in sports car racing knowing that is the one trophy you have to win before you walk away. You want to wear that watch to Daytona the next year, so that everyone knows you won it, or you want to wear it to the year-end banquet so people know you have won one.
“That is a race that when you win it, your name is forever etched in history. There is something special about it. Everybody wants the watch. That’s all that matters.”
Since 1992, every driver on a class-winning team in the Rolex 24 at Daytona (and the race’s grand marshal) has received the watch, whose retail price starts at more than $10,000. Last year, there were 16 watches awarded to the winners at Daytona International Speedway.
Every winner has a story of what the watch means, and every driver still trying to win their first has a story of what they’d do with it.
Here’s a sampling of what the watch means to those racing in the 58th running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona:
A.J. Allmendinger (2012 Daytona Prototype overall winner): “Yeah, I always bring it with me to the Rolex as a good luck charm to show me like, ‘Hey, we’ve gotten one before, we can still go do this again.’ For the most part, I don’t wear it, I keep it in a drawer that I know where it is at all times. If I’m feeling a little down on myself about my driving at times, I may have put it back on just to show like ‘Hey, you can get it one when it’s time,’ but I don’t wear it a lot, I wear it on special occasions and always bring it out just to show that you know it’s inspiration. I’d like another one for my other arm. Technically, I have to get another one for my dad because I promised him the first one and once I won it I was like, ‘No, sorry Dad, this one’s mine,’ but it’s there. It’ll always be in a drawer for sure.”
Townsend Bell (2014 GTD): “We lost the race in 2014 on a penalty, and the penalty was reversed two hours after the race. So we won the race and I won a watch. And then four years later, my watch was stolen when my house was burglarized. So just for one watch and one win, I’ve had a roller coaster ride of emotions just to this point, and I really look at it like I’m level set back to nothing, and I’ve got to go earn and win one again and having lost one through theft it makes me just as hungry as ever to go make it happen. … When I first won the watch, I brought it home to California, and I remember showing it to my oldest son Jackson at the time, and it’s one of the few things I’ve done in racing where he’s looked at something or held something, and I can tell he was proud and thought it was pretty cool. As a dad, that’s a great feeling.”
Andy Lally (2001Rolex SRPII, 2009-2011-2012 Rolex GT, 2016 GTD): “I actually have eight because I got three championships and back then they used to give you one for the championship. The first one is here and the other seven are gifted to people that have helped me out through the years. I gave my mom, my dad, my stepdad, my little sister, Mike Johnson, who was the car owner and the guy that put me in my first Daytona that helped me win the first one. My old soccer coach and the first guy to sponsor me in a car. He pulled me out of go karts and put me in my first race car. Those people have my other seven watches. I want to win more to give back. I love that moment because I give it to people who appreciate what this race is about and appreciate the Rolex brand and appreciate what that means, what that signifies, what that Rolex Daytona is and it’s special to me and I know it’s special to them.”
Joao Barbosa (2010 Daytona Prototype overall, 2014 Prototype overall, 2018 Prototype overall): “I’m planning to donate a couple of them when my kids grow up and probably when they have their own kids so it goes by generations. I have two kids so someday they will have their own kids, and it might be a good gift to give them when they get to that point.”
Renger van der Zande (2019 DPI overall): “I have a son, he’s 1 year and 2 months. So, if he behaves for 18 years and he’s responsible, he might get a Rolex from me. So I’ll keep it safe for then.”
Ricky Taylor (2017 Prototype overall): “So when I won the Rolex in 2017, I never took it out of the box. I would leave it in the box and I would eat breakfast with it every day, I’d look at it, and it didn’t seem real. So I’d look at it and it would be there, we’d eat breakfast together, and then I’d put it away. That went on for about two, three weeks, and then my dad told me that we had a sponsor dinner, and everyone was wearing their watches, so I had to wear it. So, besides that one time that I wore it to the sponsor dinner, it’s never come out of the box. It hides in my office, and I want it just to stay exactly how it was the day that we won.”
Oliver Gavin (2016 GTLM): “My Rolex is now at home in a safe. I’ve gotten it out of the box once and showed my family. It was kind of like, ‘OK, I’m going to put this away for safekeeping. It’s now still there, in the safe. I’ve got relics from the Sebring 12 Hours in 2013. I want one more, then I’ve got one for all my children. That’s my goal.”
Ryan Briscoe (2015 GTLM, 2018 GTLM): “The first one was absolutely mine and I don’t wear a watch much, I’ve got a beautiful watch box at home. My dad gave me this rotating watch box so it keeps it going and so forth. My second one, I wanted to give to my wife. I had it sized for her. It’s a gold one with a white face and really looks good. So on special occasions, we will put our Daytonas on and go out.”
Patrick Pilet (2014 GTLM): “My wife she told me if I win a second one, she wants to get it so now I have a lot of pressure. I’m always proud to wear the watch and to show what is on the back of the watch with the Rolex winner is something really unique.”
Nick Tandy (2014 GTLM): “The watch is a trophy you can’t buy. You have to win it. It’s obviously symbolic of the race. A bit like the trophies at Le Mans. You can only get these particular trophies at Le Mans. So, if in years to come in time you can look back and show your grandchildren this particular trophy that happens to be a Rolex, and you can say you had to win this, no one can go out there and buy these sort of things- it’s something you have to work for.”
Kamui Kobayashi (2019 DPI overall): “I would not mind having a second one (laughs). This is why you always want to win these big races. The challenge of this big race, everyone wants this big watch. The watch is a special present. Everyone says it looks cool, but when you turn it around and it says Daytona winner, that is something even more special. To look at that, it is just crazy.”
Colin Braun (2014 Prototype challenge winner): “I have two of them. They’re both in my safe at home. I won them, and I just felt like, ‘Man, these are so special to me.’ I want to be able to take them out, look at them and put them back in my safe. I feel like if I wore them, I’d worry about scratching them, losing them. They’re just so special. When I won a second one, I would wear that watch because it would kind of be an everyday watch. I sort of fell back on that and said, ‘Man, this is special, too. I’m putting this in the safe.’ I don’t want anything to happen to it so if we can win a third here I’ll say that I’ll wear it, and hopefully, I really do.”
Simon Pagenaud (2019 Indianapolis 500 winner; winless in five Rolex 24 starts): “Racing is also about the trophies and the jewelry that you get. I think it’s ends up being what you’ve done in your career and when you look at your rings and your watches and your trophies that you’ve won throughout the years, you remember racing moments, passing, actions at the race track, drama and you’ve got all these memories going through your mind. To me, it’s everything. It’s what my life is — its racing– so obviously if I could get the watch that would be a very special gift.”
Alexander Rossi (2016 Indianapolis 500 winner; winless in two Rolex 24 starts): “I have (an Indy 500 ring), a watch would be great. I don’t know if there’s a race that gives out a necklace if you win but if there is, that would probably be the next on my list.”
Helio Castroneves (three-time Indianapolis 500 winner; winless in four Rolex 24 starts): “I think the jewelry combination would be perfect. Ring (from the Indy 500) and watch together. It would just complete one of the goals that I want. You’re talking about Daytona 24 Hours, and the Rolex would be an incredible asset to have right here (points at wrist).”