Scott Dixon’s quest to tie Michael Andretti for third place on the Indy car career wins list was threatened, ironically, by a trio of Andretti’s own drivers.
None had the measure of the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion on Saturday, however. Dixon won the opener of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader, collecting the 42nd victory of his star-studded career. The win knotted Dixon with Andretti on the all-time list and leaves only fellow legends A.J. Foyt (67 wins) and Mario Andretti (52) ahead.
CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY LEAR: Race 1 official results
“I feel very lucky and very privileged to be in this sport,” said Dixon, who spent the first year-plus of his Indy car career with PacWest Racing before joining Chip Ganassi Racing four races into the 2002 season. He’s been with CGR since.
“For me, I love racing. I feel very lucky to do it, and while I’m here, I want to do the best that I can. Winning is why we’re in this business, and that’s why we’re going to come back tomorrow and try and get No. 43.”
In the 294th race of his 18-year career, Dixon sailed the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda across the finish line 1.8249 seconds ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile temporary street course. Hunter-Reay’s teammates Alexander Rossi and Marco Andretti finished third and fourth, respectively.
Dixon’s first win of 2018 extended his record of capturing at least one race in a season to 14 consecutive years. It also moved him into second place in the 2018 championship. The 37-year-old New Zealander trails Rossi by four points.
Marco Andretti, who earned his first pole position in nearly five years in morning qualifying, led the opening 23 laps before making his initial pit stop in the No. 98 AutoNation/Curb Honda. Dixon followed with a lightning-quick pit stop a lap later and returned to the track ahead of Andretti. From there, Dixon led 39 of the final 48 laps.
“We were trying to save as much fuel as possible to make sure that, whenever they did pit, we could go a lap or two longer, and that’s how it played out,” Dixon said. “As soon as (Marco Andretti) peeled off, we used a ton of (push-to-pass overtake activation), that good Honda power there, and threw in a big lap time. The pit stop was flawless, too, and we were able to jump him.”
Mike Hull, the managing director at CGR, has had a front-row seat for the majority of Dixon’s success as his long-time race strategist.
“Winning today was like winning the first race with Scott,” Hull said. “The first race we won with Scott was (at) Homestead in 2003. It’s been a great ride to this point for us.
“What Scott does so well is that he represents the culture of Chip Ganassi Racing. He’s a teammate, a team member. It’s something that you’ll look back on and say, ‘Man, that was awesome to be a part of.’ But for today and now, we’re happy to come home with the win.”
Hunter-Reay opted for a three-stop strategy in the No. 28 DHL Honda and clicked off the fastest lap of the race to move onto the second step of the podium. It equaled the best Belle Isle finish for the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Hunter-Reay also knew it was Dixon’s day to shine.
“Scott is one of the best,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s amazing, in this day and age in racing and how equally matched everything is, to be in that bracket of third overall (in wins). As long as they’ve been collecting these stats, there’s many years where certain drivers would have streaks where they’d win 10 races in a season or something like that, so it’s amazing that in this day and age that he’s able to continue to rack them up and be in that list.”
Rossi, in the No. 27 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda, passed Marco Andretti for third place on a Lap 61 restart to notch his fourth podium finish this season and regain the championship lead. Team owner Michael Andretti praised Dixon for tying him on the all-time victory list, but wished it hadn’t happened on a day when Andretti Autosport had three strong cars.
“Scott Dixon is one of the best Indy car drivers of all time, so it was only just a matter of time before he was going to get there,” Michael Andretti said. “Well deserved. He’s always running up front and when you do that, you’re going to win a lot of races.
“He picked the wrong day to do it, for sure,” Andretti added with a laugh. “You finish second, third and fourth and you’re still not really, really happy, which is probably being a little greedy right now.”
The 70-lap race was slowed by two full-course cautions. Graham Rahal, who won both Detroit races a year ago and was running among the leaders Saturday, ricocheted off a curb and into the Turn 13 wall on Lap 47, ending his day in 23rd place in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda. Nine laps later, Carlin’s Charlie Kimball ran into the back of Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci, sending the 20-year-old into the Turn 7 tire barrier in his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Kimball was penalized for avoidable contact and Ferrucci finished 22nd.
AJ Foyt Racing driver Tony Kanaan celebrated his 350th career start with a 14th-place finish. Kanaan is third on the all-time starts list, trailing Mario Andretti (407) and Foyt (369).
The first seven Verizon IndyCar Series races this season have seen five different drivers reach victory lane. Rossi leads the standings with 276 points, Dixon is second with 272, Indianapolis 500 winner Will Power is third with 269, reigning champion Josef Newgarden has 255 and Hunter-Reay is fifth with 227.
The second race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix takes place Sunday. Qualifying starts at 10:45 a.m. ET and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Live coverage of the 70-lap race is carried on ABC (3:30 p.m. ET) and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network (3 p.m.).