INDYCAR: Scott Dixon rebounds for Detroit Grand Prix Race 2 victory

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From the lowest of the low to the highest of the high.

One day after crashing and suffering his first DNF in two seasons, defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon rebounded with his first win of the season in today’s Race 2 of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park.

Dixon was in the lead and cruising along when his rookie teammate, Felix Rosenqvist, spun into the Turn 1 wall with six laps to go. The incident led to a red flag in order to ensure the best shot for the race finishing under green.

And on the day’s last restart with three to go, Dixon quickly dusted the competition. IndyCar’s ‘Iceman’ chalked up his 45th career victory – just seven behind Mario Andretti for second all-time. It was also his third victory at Belle Isle (2012, 2018).

“I can’t thank the crew enough,” Dixon said to NBC Sports. “Rough day yesterday – I had a pretty good headache today and my wrist is pretty sore after [the crash]. I just drove the wheels off it, and they did all the strategy – and the strategy was what nailed it. I can’t believe that we’ve ended up here today and it’s fantastic.”

Marcus Ericsson had nothing for Dixon in the end, but kept Will Power behind him to claim second place and his first career IndyCar podium – a huge result for the Swede after spending the last five years at the back of the Formula One grid.

“It was amazing – my first podium since 2013 [in Formula 2],” said Ericsson, who joined Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports over the off-season. “We’ve had so much bad luck and had mistakes when we’ve been looking really good, so to finally get the result like this and to be on the podium is a great reward for all the hard work. Now, we can build on this.”

As for Power, he overcame a gearbox issue that had him stop on course early in the race.

“I definitely thought we were done,” said Power, who bounced back from an 18th-place result in Saturday’s Race 1. “I couldn’t shift and I tried to reset it, then it stalled. But it was just a great recovery. We went fast when we needed to in that sequence to get a bunch of spots. I haven’t been this satisfied with a race since [winning last year at] Gateway.”

Power’s issue may have come from being involved in a first-lap pileup at Turn 3, which took out Tony Kanaan and forced new Indianapolis 500 champion Simon Pagenaud to the garage for a period of time. During the subsequent caution, Power stopped on the backstretch momentarily before continuing on.

The race resumed at Lap 7 with Dixon, Spencer Pigot, Santino Ferrucci and Graham Rahal running 1st-4th after choosing to stay out on track. But it wasn’t long before Dixon lost several spots with his red ‘alternate’ tires fading away.

Dixon narrowly made it to pit road at Lap 15 before the yellow came out for Pigot, who was trying to come to the pits himself but was hit from behind by Sebastien Bourdais.

The incident ended Pigot’s run, while Bourdais continued on after receiving a new front wing.

Ferrucci and Rahal were up front when the green flew again at Lap 21, and four laps later, Power’s flip from red to black ‘primary’ tires started a cycle of green-flag stops.

The cycle reached a crescendo at Lap 33, when James Hinchcliffe pitted from third and narrowly got back out ahead of current NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Josef Newgarden and Alexander Rossi. As the trio headed into Turn 3, they all lost control and spun – but Rossi was able to escape, leaving Newgarden and Hinchcliffe tangled in the tire barriers.

With caution out, Ferrucci had to pit, giving the lead to Dixon ahead of the restart at Lap 40. Another green-flag cycle began shortly afterwards, and Dixon made his stop at Lap 46.

When Power pitted at Lap 50, Dixon inherited the lead with Ericsson in second. Power was able to peel third away from Ed Jones before the caution came out again at Lap 55, when Hinchcliffe lost power and came to a halt in Turn 6. As Hinchcliffe gestured for help, Newgarden made his return to the race – the second Team Penske driver to come back after an earlier incident, counting Pagenaud.

On the restart with 11 laps to go, tough racing in the pack led to Takuma Sato having to pit for a flat tire. But up front, Dixon pulled away from Ericsson – until Rosenqvist’s wreck in Turn 1. Beforehand, Rosenqvist had reported damage to his car after making contact with the wall.

Unofficial Results

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The NTT IndyCar Series returns to action Saturday night from Texas Motor Speedway at 8pm ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports App. Both practice sessions (Thursday 8pm ET & Friday 3pm ET) will air exclusively on NBC Sports GOLD. Qualifying airs Friday night at 6:30pm ET on both GOLD and NBCSN.

Follow Chris Estrada at @estradawriting

IndyCar has big plans on, off track for first test at Thermal Club: ‘It’s an amazing facility’

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – Quantity isn’t a problem for NTT IndyCar Series drivers seeking source material for their first test on track at The Thermal Club. There’s plentiful video of the drivers making laps on the private track that bills itself as a world-class facility.

It’s quality that’s an issue with trying to do homework for their first (and possibly last) test on the 17-turn, 2.9-mile road course.

Thermal is billed as a motorsports country club of sorts, giving the rich and famous an opportunity to drive and store vintage cars at racing playground that has more than 200 members and $5 million, 30,000-square-foot homes sprouting constantly.

IndyCar’s arrival Thursday and Friday for its first full-field open test in the preseason since 2020 will mark a new era of professional racing at Thermal, which primarily has catered to amateurs (often in a fantasy camp-type setting).

Colton Herta tried doing some YouTube research on Thermal recently but gave up after watching the third lap of “some dude in a Ferrari” navigating the course that is nestled in the Coachella Valley just south of Joshua Tree National Park and north of the Salton Sea.

“It’s difficult to watch some of the onboards because it’s not really professional drivers, and they have like the cones set out on the track, where to turn in and where to get on the brakes, so it’s kind of irrelevant,” Herta said. “Yeah, I watched a little bit before I got too bored and turned away. But the track walk will be important. That’s going to be the biggest thing.”

The track walk happened Wednesday afternoon after two days of wall-to-wall media obligations at the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Conor Daly and Scott McLaughlin were among many drivers who were antsy to head southeast to the ritzy track (where many drivers have been staying in high-end casitas on the 470-acre property this week). Herta said his main concern was having enough runoff area as drivers knock off the offseason rust because “you do tend to drop a wheel here and there, have a spin if you’re getting back in the car for the first time in a few months.”

“I sort of don’t really know where the track goes,” McLaughlin said. “I feel like I’m going to get lost out there.”

With IndyCar increasingly limiting test time, Daly said sessions such as Thermal “are really, really important. We can train all we want, but there’s nothing like getting in these cars to drive to really prepare yourself for the first race. It’s going to be important to try to do as many laps as possible.”

Of course, what makes Thermal even more rare is that it’s not on the IndyCar schedule nor has it been a testing venue in the past. Sebring International Raceway also doesn’t play host to a race, but it’s become a tried and true place for teams seeking to hone their setups.

An IndyCar Series hauler is unloaded Monday at The Thermal Club track ahead of preseason testing Thursday and Friday (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

Thermal will be the first time IndyCar is learning an entirely new track since the streets of Nashville nearly two years ago, but in this case, it’s unknown how applicable it’ll be in the future. Some drivers speculated that it could translate to Portland with its length (lap times are projected at more than a minute and 40 seconds), but it’s an unknown how slippery the surface will be for tire wear (probably 20-lap stints, which are relatively short).

“It’s hard when it comes to just two full days of testing because obviously some people will adapt to it quicker than others,” Daly said. “You might feel like a hero, then the next day you might feel like a zero because some people have caught up.

“But these days are important because hopefully it is an indication for us on all the permanent road circuits that we go: Mid-Ohio, Laguna Seca, Indy GP. Hopefully it’s helpful for us in all those scenarios. We’ll see what happens, I guess. It doesn’t matter to us how fast we go, as long as we get something out of it, right? How do we judge some changes? If that’s great for a certain section of the track, right, that could represent a section of another road track we go to. There’s a lot that we can learn, for sure. Realistically we kind of have to keep ourselves  in check with our expectations.”

Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden said drivers “probably shouldn’t come out of here either too excited or too demoralized depending on how it goes because it is not incredibly relevant when it comes to at-track performance. We’re never going to run here again. Well, I shouldn’t say that. We’re not going to run here this year for a points-scoring race. From that standpoint, it’s not relevant.

“What it is relevant for and what I’m excited about is just being on track. We definitely need it on the 2 car. We have a lot of new people. We’re going to maximize this time by just treating it like a race weekend in that we’re doing all the things we would do on a normal weekend to be fast and work well and efficient together. When we come out of the weekend we’ll have something to look at, what did we do well or not well. We have a good, relevant conversation piece to take into (the season opener at) St. Pete. From that standpoint it’s excellent. If we finish 15th on the charts, yeah, maybe we shouldn’t read too much into that.”

Said Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal: “I’m not sure how much (the Thermal track) relates. We’re running a Barber tire, similar to the Laguna Seca tire. Who knows what the track grip is like in the desert here. If you look at a lot of the corners, a lot of hairpins, a lot of slow speed corners, but then you’ve got like the end of the back straight is quite a fast left-hander. But they’re varying shapes of corners, decreasing radius, on increasing radius. We don’t have any tracks that do that traditionally.

“We’ve got to pick and choose exactly what we get out of it, but I’m all on board for the Thermal thing, so I don’t want to sound like I’m not. I think it was great to have change. We’ve kind of gone to the same places time and time and time and time again. It’s good to see something new.”

IndyCar also will be measuring the results of the test beyond timing and scoring.

The Indianapolis Star reported there have been informal talks about having a pro-am event in the future. With the test closed to the general public but open to its high-dollar clientele, there could be potentially millions of liquid capital at stake for future team investment if the Thermal Club’s members take a shine to IndyCar.

Thermal was throwing a posh welcoming event Wednesday night that was expected to have drivers, series executives and residents mingling with dancing and drinks.

Simon Pagenaud, who has explored the concept of starting a motorsports country club in his native France, is intrigued by the long-term marriage of IndyCar and Thermal.

“This kind of racetrack — what they do with their members, the passion of cars —  is really something,” Pagenaud said.

Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson likes the appeal of testing in Southern California instead of Central Florida.

“This time of the year, it’s really hard to find places for us to go testing,” Ericsson said. “I’ve only been here for four years, starting my fifth year, and I feel like I’ve done I don’t know how many days of testing at Sebring.

“For me, this is a lot better to come here. I like the idea a lot of having the preseason testing back on the calendar to get all the teams and drivers together.”

Said Alexander Rossi, who will be making his debut in an Arrow McLaren Chevrolet this week: “It’s always a difficult situation in January, February, in the United States to find a track that has the appropriate climate. Not only do we have a beautiful place to come with seemingly good weather, but you’re introducing IndyCar to obviously a demographic that has an interest in racing, with some decent capital behind them. They may not know of IndyCar. They may have known of IndyCar but never seen it in person.

“We’re able to bring and showcase what we believe is the best series in the world in front of people who are passionate about motorsports, participate in motorsports themselves, and maybe haven’t seen it before.”

McLaren teammate Felix Rosenqvist already has been staying at the villas inside the track all week.

“It’s an amazing facility,” he said. “I’ve never been here before. I was really blown away by how neat and tidy everything looks.

“I don’t know if there’s ambitions to race here in the future. That could be an option. I’m just pumped to be in California in January. There’s worse places to be.”