With a 5-second lead and five laps remaining, it’s natural to expect a five-time series champion would feel confident about winning the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Scott Dixon knew better.
“With about 10 laps to go, I’m like, ‘We’re going to get hosed here,’” said the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who led a race-high 39 of 85 laps but still finished second in the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The front tires, I don’t know if we changed the front wing or whatever we did in that pit stop, but we just had no front grip and had to stop the car too much to really keep time.”
Dixon was in command for much of the race after taking the lead on Lap 16 with quite possibly the best pass of the season – a third to first maneuver past teammate Felix Rosenqvist (who started on the pole position) and Jack Harvey.
After the rain jumbled the field as teams scrambled to adapt to changing weather and track conditions, Dixon retook first on Lap 63. He led the next 21 laps before winner Simon Pagenaud charged past to win by 2 seconds.
Pagenaud quickly began chopping down Dixon’s lead as soon as he passed Harvey for second with five laps remaining, but Dixon knew it was over before that.
“They were giving me lap times, and you could see that (Pagenaud) just had some pretty immense pace,” Dixon said. “Once I knew he got some clear track and once he got past Harvey, I think it only took two laps before he was on top of us.
“It falls off really fast here. It’s a momentum track, and it comes far. So I knew pretty early that we were going to be struggling.”
Even though he had roughly 30 seconds of push to pass remaining (while Pagenaud had none), Dixon was limited in being able to use the horsepower on demand boost as a defense mechanism because he was virtually having to stop his No. 9 Dallara-Honda in the first-gear, low-speed corners in order to turn.
“When you’re doing a 40-mph corner and if he’s rolling five mph faster, the time gets chewed up really fast,” Dixon said. “It’s 5 mph when you’re doing 160 on the straights, nowhere near the same amount. I was trying to use (push to pass) sporadically in spots to try and lessen the pain, but you knew it was coming.
“It was one of those scenarios where you’re either hoping for a yellow or it was going to be a timed race and come up short by a couple laps.”
Monday marked Dixon’s third runner-up finish in five starts this season (as well as his third consecutive in the IndyCar GP), and he moved up to second in the standings, six points behind Josef Newgarden, entering the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
But the momentum was hardly much solace for the defending series champion, who is seeking his second win in the Indy 500 (which he won in 2008).
“Days like this are the days you need to try to capitalize and get the win, and we didn’t,” he said. “So it’s nice to have the performance and nice to run fast, but we’re here to win, and with our team, if we don’t win, then it sucks. But we’ll use this as motivation and hopefully performance wise we’re strong the next couple weeks and then can have a good shot into the 500.”