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Dixon, Wickens experience different fortunes on way to INDYCAR GP podiums

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Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Robert Wickens finished second and third on Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix. But, both had very different outlooks given where their weekends started and where they finished.

For Dixon, finishing second might feel like a win of sorts. The four-time IndyCar champion was mired back in 18th on the starting grid after struggling in qualifying.

The Ganassi team elected to pit him early – on Lap 15 – in hopes of putting him in clean track so he could make better lap times.

To say the strategy paid off is putting it lightly. Dixon was sixth when the cycle of pit stops concluded, and he stayed in the Top 10 all day until the final set of pit stops on Lap 58, completed under caution after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden spun in Turn 12.

Straight from the “Where did he come from?” files, Dixon emerged from the final pit stops in third behind leaders Will Power and Robert Wickens, and Dixon made his way around Wickens to take second on Lap 64.

He tried to keep Power close the rest of the way, but ultimately had to accept second, a strong result after the struggles in qualifying, and his first podium of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

“Well, you know, the goal was to finish better than 18th, that’s for sure,” Dixon quipped in the post-race press conference.

Dixon added that, while he and the Ganassi team certainly played the strategy correctly, they also caught the right breaks along the way.

“You kind of have an understanding that you can definitely move up maybe five, six, seven spots, but it also depends on how the race plays,” he explained. “You can have a strategy call or a yellow that flips the race and you can go all the way back to what happened to us in Long Beach. You’re confident (you can get to the front). We actually won from last at Mid-Ohio a couple years back, from 22nd to 1st. That was the goal today. We stuck to our strategy that we had in the pre-race meeting with pitting early on the blacks, getting rid of them and then running as hard as possible for the reds for the three stints after. Today it worked out well. Maybe next race it won’t.”

Robert Wickens, meanwhile, might be somewhat disappointed in finishing third.

Robert Wickens saw another chance to win slip away, as he finished third at the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Photo: IndyCar

Wickens, who started second, stalked Power the entire first stint before both pitted together on Lap 21.

Both drivers started the race on the alternate compound – “red” – softer Firestone tires, and critically, SPM elected to keep Wickens on the reds. Team Penske, meanwhile, put Power on the primary “blacks,” choosing to get them out of the way early in the race, while SPM and Wickens would do so later on.

Wickens was able to pass Power on the outside entering Turn 7 on Lap 24, and assumed the lead when the cycle of stops concluded on Lap 27.

From there, the Canadian needed to lay down as many quick laps as possible to build a big gap over Power, knowing that the scripts would be flipped in the next stint – Wickens would have to go to the blacks, while Power could go back to the reds.

Indeed, Wickens was turning in some very quick laps and built the gap to over five seconds at one point before he pitted again on Lap 41. Power pitted one lap later, and they again emerged 1-2 when the cycle concluded.

But, Power, now on reds, quickly reeled Wickens back in and was all over his gearbox as they got into the second half of the race.

On Lap 51, Power made his move around the outside of Wickens in Turn 1, and while Wickens tried to battle back, it was to no avail.

Power pulled away from there, and while the aforementioned caution allowed them all to pit together and take on reds for the rest of the way, Wickens ultimately had nothing for Power or Dixon.

With Wickens in fuel-save mode for the final stint, he could do no better than third on a day when a victory looked to be beckoning again.

He explained afterward that saving fuel was especially problematic, as it’s something he’s never really experienced before.

“That was the first race where I kind of felt like a true rookie there in that final stint because I’ve never had to save fuel before,” he detailed. “We’ve kind of practiced it a little bit in warmup where you do like one lap of fuel save. But the amount of fuel that we were having to save to make that work was something that I didn’t even think was possible.”

Wickens added, “It was tough, and obviously running in P2, I was told the (fuel) number I needed to achieve, and then I was just like ‘Okay, well, Scott is on Push-to-Pass, so I don’t know if I should use it to keep him behind or if I should hit my number,’ and we were actually having an issue with my Push-to-Pass all day, so it wasn’t quite working to the best that it could. No, it was a tough day, an exhausting afternoon, but really happy to finish on the podium.”

With their results, Dixon now sits fourth in the IndyCar standings, 31 points behind Newgarden, while Wickens sits eighth, 11 points behind teammate James Hinchcliffe in fifth.

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IndyCar entry lists for Harvest GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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There are 25 drivers on the NTT IndyCar Series entry lists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a few new yet familiar faces for the Oct. 2-3 race weekend.

Four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais will make his season debut in the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet (shifting Dalton Kellett to the No. 41) with AJ Foyt Racing, which he is joining full time next season. James Hinchcliffe, who had run three races with Andretti Autosport, will return in place of Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda. Helio Castroneves will drive Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 Dallara-Chevy for Oliver Askew, who is out with concussion-like symptoms.

Sage Karam, who has two IndyCar starts this year at IMS (the road course on July 4 and the Indy 500 on Aug. 23), also will return to the series in Dreyer & Reinbold’s No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet.

HARVEST GP ENTRY LISTS: Friday l Saturday

Friday and Saturday of the Harvest GP presented by GMR will mark the second and third races this season on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. While the July 4 race on the circuit was 80 laps, Friday’s distance is 85 laps, and Saturday will be a 75-lap event.

Championship leader Scott Dixon led 26 of 80 laps to win the July 4 race at the IMS road course. With three races remaining in the series, the five-time series champion enters with a 72-point lead on Josef Newgarden.

Click here to see who’s on the IndyCar entry lists in Race 1 and in Race 2 for the Harvest GP presented by GMR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.


START TIMES AND TV INFO FOR INDYCAR AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY ROAD COURSE (all times ET):

Thursday

IndyCar NTT Series practice: 2:25-3:40 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying, Race 1: 6:20 p.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

Friday

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 1: 3:30 p.m. (green flag, 5 p.m.), USA Network, NBC Sports Gold

Saturday

—IndyCar qualifying: 10:20 a.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 2: 2:30 p.m (green flag, 2:31 p.m.)., NBC, NBC Sports Gold