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Dixon’s Dream Day in St Louis - Gateway 500 Race Report

Written by Katie Gregory, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Credit - Jeff Roberson

Amid contract frenzies and an out-of-shape market, 28 IndyCar drivers would have one last chance to prove themselves around ovals, at the Gateway 500. 260 laps would be completed at the World Wide Technology Raceway, and for drivers who haven’t secured their 2024 seat - the last oval of the season could seal their fate.

Scott Mclaughlin took pole position at the rescheduled qualifying on Sunday. Yet, a grid penalty meant he started 10th, and therefore pole position was handed over to his Penske teammate Josef Newgarden. Newgarden had won all four oval races this season, earning his status as the “Oval King” - but would ultimately be dethroned by Scott Dixon in a whirlwind race.

Pole-sitter Newgarden got an early jump at the start, but Malukas stole the show going from sixth to third within moments. The Arrow McLarens of O’Ward and Rosenquist began to battle, but were stopped prematurely, as Ed Carpenter went into the back of Benjamin Pederson, ending his race and causing a caution.

Newgarden controlled the race as it went green once again, and seemed to be unaware, or at least, unbothered about the hungry drivers behind him with nothing to lose. One such driver was Santino Ferruci, who pitted for alternate red tyres on lap eight. Gateway was also the first oval race featuring these tyres, and with Ferruci trying them out, other teams were able to monitor their development and degradation.

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Drivers began to complain about vibration issues on the red alternate tyre, but it was still too early to tell when the tyres would drop off. Strategists and commentators alike were trying to work out if it would be a three-stop or a four-stop race, and those on the three stop would have to make it to lap 65 before pitting.

Takuma Sato would be the first driver to properly delve off the racing line and feel the consequences, as his tyres collected the rubber marbles, and he went higher than intended. Up front, Herta began to drop pace rapidly and was easily passed by O’Ward and Rosenqvist, leading him to pit and commit to a four-stop strategy.

Callum Illot was the second driver to feel the full effects of the marbles when he hit the wall outside turn two, gaining right rear damage, and eventually retiring from the race. Meanwhile many frontrunners were unable to reach the 65 lap window and were now on the four stop, including race leader Josef Newgarden. However, one driver who was able to reach the milestone was Scott Dixon, who made his tyres last long, and pitted for alternate reds on lap 65.

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Newgarden continued his lead, as O’Ward made light work of Herta, who was suffering from a case of understeer. Further back, Sting Ray Robb became the latest victim of the unforgiving rubber marbles, and hit the wall at the recurring crime scene that was turns one and two. It was clear this was turning into a race of one line, and the drivers had to weigh up the risk versus the reward before making a pass.

O’Ward was incredibly quick on his alternate reds, even while other drivers were complaining about their degradation. Herta was seven seconds behind O’Ward and when he asked his team what strategy was the favourite, he was told all drivers were on a four stop.

Newgarden and O’Ward both pitted for black primary tyres and the fight was well and truly on. The pair began to fight for 12th place, but were effectively battling for the race lead, as every driver ahead had yet to pit for a second time. Both drivers were slowed down by traffic in the form of Ed Carpenter, who let through Newgarden before blocking O’Ward as he didn’t want to stay off-line for too long.

The frontrunners of Malukas and Herta made their pit stops on lap 113, with Dixon inheriting the lead - the only driver in with a likelihood of making the three stop strategy work. However, a mere 10 laps later - Takuma Sato lost his pace completely, and stopped on the raceway because of earlier damage. The race went under caution once again, and Dixon made his second stop, with Newgarden and O’Ward joining him in pitlane.

Dixon led the race once the race went green again, on lap 136, as drivers began to tussle behind him. Pato and Newgarden got far too close for comfort, as they went wheel-to-wheel, and further back, McLaughlin and Malukas battled over sixth place. Dixon, who started 16th on the grid, would save fuel tremendously to pit on lap 195, and make the three stop work.

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Lap 167 saw Newgarden switch to a set of primary black tyres while Dixon was still trying to stretch out his stint. The frontrunners all had Honda engines, which were proving to be the superior choice in terms of fuel saving. Strategy was mixed, as many drivers wanted to emulate Dixon’s strategy, and make the three-stop work.

Although as the race went on, other drivers were unable to make it to the window and bailed to pitlane. Dixon, however, successfully made it to the window, and visited pit lane on lap 196.

On lap 200, Dixon lapped Grosjean. This was especially pertinent as Grosjean was now the only driver on a similar strategy to Dixon, and yet Dixon still cleared him with ease, proving he is truly in a league of his own. Lap 211 saw Newgarden risk it all by going off-line and he was punished harshly, his race and championship battle ending right before his eyes.

Dixon finished the last 60 laps with his eyes focused not on his mirrors but on his dash. While other drivers were fighting tooth and nail for positions, the Ice Man claimed victory by hitting his fuel number perfectly, and remaining calm throughout. Whether Dixon is on the right or wrong strategy for the race, one thing is clear: he’s going to stick with it. When it seems so unthinkable and impossible that other drivers bail, that is the exact moment that Scott Dixon outlasts his competition.

Dixon was joined on the podium by Pato O’Ward and David Malukas, after an incredible 260 laps of racing action.


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