After a late-race battle for the victory in Sunday’s 2019 NTT IndyCar Series Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, Chip Ganassi Racing team-mates, Scott Dixon and Felix Rosenqvist have complimented each-other despite Rosenqvist obviously being “frustrated” to have missed out on what would’ve been his first victory. Dixon stated that he had “huge respect” for Felix after the rookie raced him cleanly for the win on the final lap of the race.
In Saturday’s qualifying session at Mid-Ohio, Rosenqvist would get into the final session and would ultimately secure sixth-place on the grid. Dixon, on the other hand, didn’t quite have the pace to each the final round and would have to settle for eighth on the grid.
At the start of the race, the Ganassi drivers looked to have the better race pace over those who had qualified ahead of them. Both drivers looked to commit to the gamble of the two-stop strategy as opposed to the more widely-used and safer option of the three-stop strategy. At the end of the first stint, Rosenqvist found his way by the race-leader and pole-sitter Will Power, with Dixon soon working his way into third-place.
As the race progressed, however, the pair took different turns. Dixon remained on the two-stop strategy, whilst Rosenqvist made an early second pit-stop to move onto the three-stop strategy; a move that Rosenqvist’s engineer would soon go on to say had been the plan the whole time. When both drivers made their final stops, they found themselves in first and second, with Dixon holding a nine-second advantage over Rosenqvist thanks to Felix’s extra pit-stop.
As the final ten laps came around, Dixon’s scrubbed alternate tyres began to fade away more and more. This allowed Rosenqvist, who was on much fresher tyres, to really start closing in. With ten to go, the gap was ten seconds. With five to go, just two seconds separated the pair. It looked as though Rosenqvist was going to easily catch and subsequently pass his race-leading team-mate, but there was a problem. Four lapped cars separated Dixon from Rosenqvist.
Rosenqvist began to pick off the lapped cars lap after lap, but each moment he spent fighting a lapped car was a moment that he wasn’t fighting Dixon. After a few hairy moments and near collisions with the lapped cars, Rosenqvist finally cleared the final car that separated him from Dixon. At this point, just a lap and half remained in the race. As the pair crossed the line to start the last lap, Rosenqvist was practically pushing Dixon around the circuit.
As the pair reached the keyhole hairpin of turn two, Rosenqvist spied a gap on the inside of Dixon. However, Scott was committed to taking the inside line for the corner. The pair made brief contact, but were crucially able to continue with no damage. Rosenqvist again had a look at passing Dixon through the complex of corners from turn four to turn six, but Dixon would perfectly place his #9 Honda to keep Rosenqvist’s #10 car at bay.
From there, there was not really another major chance for Rosenqvist to pass Dixon. Felix got a much better run through the final corner and pulled to within a car-length of Scott, with Scott crossing the line to take the chequered flag and the race victory by just 0.093 of a second; one of the closest race finishes on a road course in IndyCar history.
The win would be Scott’s second of the season and would come at a crucial time. The reigning series champion is the fourth and final realistic championship contender and is potentially just one poor finish away from being eliminated from the running. Thanks to the victory on Sunday, coupled with last-lap misfortune for the championship-leader, Josef Newgarden, Dixon has reduced his gap to the top to sixty-two points with just four races remaining until the champion is crowned.
After the race, Dixon would speak about how he thought he had potentially cost himself the win. He revealed that the team had originally intended for him to go onto the longer-lasting primary tyre compound for the final stint, but that Scott himself had elected to move onto the shorter-lasting alternate tyres that ultimately wore way too much and nearly saw him overtaken by his team-mate.
“I think it was, honestly, with about 15 to go, I started moaning to the team. ‘I’m like, man, I think we’re going to have to pit again.’ A lot of it, I think, was just bad choices from my front.” Dixon said post-race, “I think after the race, Chip [Ganassi, team owner] said that he had decided that we should have gone to blacks [Firestone primary tyres]. And I said, ‘Well, how did you and the team — how did we not go to blacks?’ But I said, ‘It looks like the reds [Firestone alternate tyres] are holding on pretty well,’ but we made adjustments to the first set of sticker reds and had quite a bit of understeer.
“We made those changes for the used second set that already had four laps on it from qualifying and they just couldn’t take it. It was too aggressive. Luckily, I used them early to try and get past some of those [lapped] traffic cars that did help us later on, I think, at least [to] delay Felix getting to us.
“But ultimately, had we gone to the black tires, we would have maintained our eight- or ten-second gap, but it definitely made it exciting for me and I’m sure everybody else. And huge respect for Felix. He drove clean, and ultimately, I don’t know, it was going to be hard for any car to come past, even though we were about three seconds slower a lap than anyone else.”
The race result would be a somewhat bittersweet one for Rosenqvist. On one hand, it was Felix’s first podium in the IndyCar Series after having come so close with a pair of fourth place finishes earlier in the season at St. Petersburg and Belle Isle. On the other hand, however, Rosenqvist had come within just a tenth of a second of taking what would have been his first race win.
After climbing from the car, Rosenqvist was asked about whether he had mixed emotions after having almost taken the victory. He went on to talk about how he had been “really frustrated” whilst being held up by lapped cars.
“I think we have to keep the perspective.” Rosenqvist said after the race on Sunday, “Had our first podium today and also a one-two finish for Chip Ganassi Racing. Obviously tough when I think we really had the right strategy and the pace to win the race.
“With those [lapped] cars in front of us, it was going to be difficult, and I was really frustrated on the radio. Barry [Wanser], my strategist, tried to really keep me calm and [e] tried to pick off [the lapped cars] one by one, so I used a lot of push-to-pass to get through [Max] Chilton and Marco [Andretti] and whoever was in front of me. I think it’s a bit of a shame because maybe at times we were missing out on a good battle when you had to race cars that were fighting for P24.
“But anyway, that’s what it is. I really want to credit Chip [Ganassi, team owner] for letting us race. The last lap, I think everyone really enjoyed that. We were enjoying it. We were banging wheels in Turn two there, [it] was a bit exciting. But Scott is always going to fight you hard, but fair, and I think I did the same, and maybe one more lap we could have got him. But yeah, it was awesome.”
With Mid-Ohio now in the rear-view mirror, Dixon and Rosenqvist will now switch their attention to the next round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series. The 2019 ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway will take place on Sunday, July 18.