Scott Dixon finishes fourth at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach
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Scott Dixon has been denied victory at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, after leading proceedings early from the front row. In the end he took fourth place, enough for him to retain fourth in the standings.
The Kiwi took the lead on lap one after pole-sitter Helio Castroneves made a bad start and fell through the order. Dixon then dominated the opening phase of the race, leading every lap until his first pit stop on lap 17.
This committed Dixon to a three-stop pit strategy, which was at odds with the rest of the race leaders — which at this point were Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, and Alexander Rossi.
“[Two stops] was always the plan. I'm not really sure what changed up there,” Dixon said after the race.
“I haven't spoken to the team yet, so maybe they saw something or thought that a caution was going to come out and try and get lucky with that. But, you're kind of flirting with fire when you try things like that.”
Dixon conceded that the alternative strategy was most likely his team's downfall.
“We gave away the race at that point. The car was super fast, and we had trimmed it to stay out in front. It got a bit tougher with the NTT Data car late in the race in traffic, we just didn't have the grip.
“It's hard to swallow, that one. I think we were leading, pulling away, saving fuel, it was going to be an easy two-stop strategy for us, and we wound up fourth.”
Dixon became the leading light of those on a three-stop strategy, with Simon Pagenaud (who had started from last, but fought through into contention) and former pole-sitter Castroneves in his tow.
As the race wore on without cautions (one had flown on lap one for a crash between Charlie Kimball and Will Power), the power appeared to swing towards the drivers on a two-stop strategy. Dixon's angle revolved around making quick work of traffic and setting a quick pace, but neither of these things seemed forthcoming.
As the pit cycle circulated, Dixon took the race lead on lap 58. He had one stop left to make, but he had 20 seconds of gap over his new nearest two-stop rival Hinchcliffe.
What changed it all was a caution on lap 63, caused by Rossi's stranded car that had succumbed to a mechanical failure. Dixon had made his final stop the lap prior. This brought Dixon right onto the tail end of the two-stoppers who had to save fuel, but it also gave the fuel-savers better fuel economy.
It also enabled the left-field challenge from Josef Newgarden, who leaped past Dixon during the pit cycle to become the leading three-stop driver.
What went against Dixon was a slew of traffic that sat between Hunter-Reay in second and Sebastian Bourdais in third (Dixon was in fifth, behind Newgarden). And in the end, it severed any chance Dixon or Newgarden had to run over the leading cars; though Dixon was circumspect about the traffic post-race.
“I don't think it really determined the race. Obviously for the leader, it was good for him, and congratulations to Hinch. The lapped guys, they did a good job. I don't think there was any sort of blocking going on, just not a great day for us.”
It looked like it was all over at the front, until Hunter-Reay's car had an engine failure with five laps to go. This caused a caution, and brought Dixon and co back into the game.
But even with the added spice of a late caution, there wouldn't be any further changes to the front — Hinchcliffe taking the win comfortably over Bourdais, Newgarden, Dixon, and defending champion Simon Pagenaud.
The next round of the series is the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 23. It's a race that has long eluded Dixon, while also favouring key rivals Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Simon Pagenaud, who are all past winners.
1. James Hinchcliffe 85 laps
2. Sebastien Bourdais +1.4940
3. Josef Newgarden +2.3160
4. Scott Dixon +2.7382
5. Simon Pagenaud +3.3934
6. Ed Jones +5.7951
7. Carlos Munoz +6.9393
8. Spencer Pigot +9.0570
9. Helio Castroneves +9.3403
10. Graham Rahal +17.8632
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