After a chaotic return to Portland International Raceway for the Verizon IndyCar Series, 2018 championship rivals Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi has spoken of their crazy races, which saw both drivers holding the upper hand over one another at various points of the event.
Dixon would, against all odds, end up finishing fifth to maintain his championship advantage over Rossi heading into the season-finale at Sonoma Raceway.
Throughout the entire Grand Prix of Portland event, Dixon and Rossi bizarrely seemed to have opposing fortunes at every turn. During the two Friday practice sessions, it seemed as though Dixon had an advantage over Rossi; with Dixon finishing higher than Rossi in both sessions, with Rossi confined to a spot further back on the time-sheets. What’s more, Rossi seemed to be struggling to get to grips with either his #27 Andretti Autosport Honda and/or the race track itself, as he made numerous errors during the session.
In Saturday’s qualifying, however, Dixon and Rossi switched roles. Rossi managed to secure third on the grid, only behind the dominant Team Penske duo of Will Power and Josef Newgarden, but Dixon struggled. The New Zealander claimed after the session that his #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was struggling on the primary Firestone tyre compound and that their pace on the faster alternate tyres was temperamental.
His tyre inconsistencies, added to traffic during the second session of qualifying, meant that Dixon would qualify down in eleventh place. He would be right in the pack for the start of the race, which had the potential to be chaotic.
That potential was realised. The field managed to get through turn one with no drama, but it was at the exit of the festival chicane where everything kicked off. James Hinchcliffe spun across the field after he ran over the inside kerb whilst battling with Zach Veach. Hinchcliffe was collected by Marco Andretti, who flipped, with Ed Jones and Graham Rahal piling into the melee soon after.
Dixon was unable to avoid the mass of cars ahead of him. He was caught completely unsighted due to the amount of dust kicked up into the air, eventually coming to rest with damage to the front of his #9 Honda. Dixon admitted post-race in an interview with Autosport that he felt like he “wanted to cry” in the immediate aftermath of the incident, but once the dust cleared, it became apparent that somehow his car was almost unscathed. He was the only driver of the five involved that was able to drive away from the accident and avoid retiring from the race.
From there, Dixon was running at the back of the field. His position was further compounded when he received a penalty for speeding in the pit-lane during the race, but he miraculously found himself back inside the top five toward the end of the race after two well-timed cautions massively mixed up the running order.
Dixon would lose fourth place to a hard-charging Spencer Pigot, but ultimately Dixon was able to come home, against all the odds, to take a superb fifth place; crucially ahead of all of his championship rivals. It was an incredible recovery from what could have been a disastrous day for his championship hopes.
“It was a huge day for the team today and feels like a win for us.” Dixon said post-race, “The points, whatever it is, is not a huge amount. I couldn’t see anything once I got off in the dirt at the start, it was just dust everywhere. Then I kept getting hit and hit and thought, ‘Oh, this isn’t going to be good.’ Luckily, we were able to keep the PNC Bank car running, back up from the incident and continue. What a crazy day.”
Whilst Dixon’s race had started off badly but ended well, Rossi had the exact opposite fortunes. Alexander had been ahead of the lap one incident and had jumped up to second place before the caution was called. Soon after, Rossi would take the lead of the race when the polesitter Will Power developed a gearbox issue.
Things were looking peachy for Rossi for much of the race, as the Andretti driver built up a lead of over four seconds on his team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay, but the mid-race cautions would fall at the worse possible time for Alexander. He and Josef Newgarden would cycle to almost the rear of the field during the caution and the subsequent pit-stops.
Rossi managed to make up a number of positions over the closing stages of the race, but he could not get back up into contention for the race win. Alexander would eventually come home in eighth place, which was decent damage limitation, but he would also lose points to Dixon in the championship for the first time in three races.
The result was hugely disappointing for Alexander, especially considering that at various points in the race he was looking as though he would take over the lead in the championship if the race had finished whilst he was running in the lead.
“It’s one of those days,” a crestfallen Rossi would comment after the race, “We had a fast car. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda was really quick out front and we were able to build a seven-second gap. Our tyre strategy was going to plan and everything was good until the yellow [flag] came on Lap 56.
“It hurts a lot, and hopefully, it’s not something that costs us the championship. We just have to rebound and move on from it and know that it’s something that’s out of our control. Now, it’s time to refocus and be ready to attack for Sonoma.”
Heading into the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, Dixon now holds a championship lead of twenty-nine points over Rossi. With double points on offer, the title is very much in the balance between the two. For example, if Rossi were to win the race, Dixon would have to finish in second place to win the title. Things would be closer if the pair were to finish further down in the top ten. If both were to retire, the opportunity would even be there for Will Power or Josef Newgarden to steal the title; albeit it only just as the pair are eighty-seven points behind with just over one hundred points available.
The 2018 Grand Prix of Sonoma will take place on Sunday, September 16.