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IndyCar Drivers’ View: Herta’s apology and Dixon’s “sketchy” strategy

Written by Archie O’Reilly

Scott Dixon moved within 10 wins of AJ Foyt’s all-time NTT IndyCar Series win record with a 57th career win and second victory on the streets of Long Beach. This means he has now won a race in 20 successive seasons. 

Colton Herta finished second from Alex Palou, ahead of Josef Newgarden. Late contact between Herta and Newgarden has been one of the big talking points, likely snatching at least a second-place finish from the St. Petersburg winner.

DIVEBOMB brings you some of the podium-sitters’ post-race views and other driver stories you may have missed…

Herta’s apology to Newgarden

Herta cut a disappointed figure when speaking about his contact with Newgarden at the hairpin, which caused the championship leader’s No.2 Team Penske Chevrolet to go briefly into anti-stall and fall off the podium. There was visible regret about what was an honest mistake.

Newgarden came straight to speak to Herta after exiting his car, which Herta agreed “he had the right” to do. The Californian, who resides in Newgarden’s home state of Nashville, readily admitted he “wouldn’t have been happy” if he was on the receiving end of what he described as a misjudgement. 

“It seemed pretty obvious,” Newgarden said. “He just misjudged it and ran into me. I’m not saying we were going to get Dixon. It was very, very difficult for me to get the run I needed to. I think traffic was going to provide me an opportunity, so that run right there, I was really excited about it. I think that was going to be my last chance.”

Herta immediately apologised to Newgarden for the incident. He would not delve into the details of the conversation but did say: “He wasn’t happy.”

Herta felt he was caught out by Newgarden slowing in the hairpin, albeit he is not pinning any blame on his competitor. At the time, Newgarden was in pursuit of a late overtake and trying to shape up a run on Scott Dixon.

“Ideally you want to exit the corner as straight as possible to get the best run onto the straight,” Herta said. “You do that by opening up the entry. But it slows down your speed so much on the entry… if you’re not doing that every lap, it’s tough to gauge how fast he was going to be going there.

“Ultimately it’s his right to do that. It’s my right to not run into the back of him there.”

Herta evidently felt he was the most culpable party. And while he was pleased to notch his best result since Toronto in 2022, there was an air of regret. He went as far as admitting he felt a penalty of some form, even if not a severe one, could have been warranted.

“I would have been surprised with a drive-through or something like that,” he said. “I would not have been surprised if they moved me behind him. It was borderline. The problem wasn’t the hit. It was when he landed, he went into anti-stall. That’s what killed it. If he doesn't go into anti-stall, nothing happens, we all stay in the line.”

In the end, it was a case of the consequence being greater than the action. And Herta rounded out the post-race discussion about the incident by joking a penalty would have been unfavourable as Palou, sitting beside him in the press conference, would have been promoted to second.

“In this sport, we don’t need him doing more.”

Dixon’s “sketchy” fuel save

“I think it was definitely a bit sketchy,” Dixon said of the fuel-save strategy that saw him topple and hold off a train of drivers pushing hard on the primary strategy. 

Penske’s Will Power, ultimately second-best on the alternate strategy, finished 15 seconds back in sixth despite having led the race in the early stages. That emphasises just what a stellar performance Dixon delivered, defending hard against his fast-charging competitors - having saved push-to-pass - while also saving fuel to the extent of nobody else.

“It ranks on the stressful metre pretty high,” he said. “This one was up there because they were coming hard and fast. They were going to get to us with eight to 10 laps to go. Do you push, maintain track position over maybe not finishing? It’s a hard decision to make.”

It was a measure of Dixon’s exceptional intelligence and quick-thinking during races that he did not allow backmarkers to negatively impact him in the late stages. Instead, he was shrewd and actually used their “big” influence to his benefit to help to build a buffer.

He further detailed that his No.9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was “trimmed out” where others were not, which helped him to fend off Newgarden and Herta and lap slower cars on the straights. And, making his fuel saving even more obscene to comprehend, Dixon admitted he did not always even make the required number.

“I would say I didn’t get the number consistently, so I was a little worried about that,” he said. “We have a light that comes on that gives you a couple of laps’ heads up that you’re actually going to run out of fuel. I didn’t see it with two laps to go. 

“They came on the radio saying: ‘Go flat out, mix one, overtake, whatever you need.’ That was definitely nice to hear at that point because the stress level was pretty high. To get after it for the last two laps without a concern was big.”

Whether his saving of tyres, fuel or even push-to-pass, it was a masterclass in management from Dixon. And by no means for the first time. When the opportunity to move off-strategy emerged, there were no second thoughts.

“It was black and white,” he said. “I normally question it. Today I was like: ‘Hey, let’s just get on with it.’ They told me late, which I think strategy-wise was good so a bunch of others didn’t dive in and take the same stop. I knew it was going to be tough. What you hope for in the long run is that you get some caution laps again, which would have made it a lot easier.”

Dixon said Chip Ganassi even got on the radio at one stage: “I couldn’t really hear what he said. I heard he was yelling. I guess it meant go. That’s what I did.”

Drivers left stunned by Dixon

There was a fair amount of bewilderment between drivers at just how Dixon pulled off his audacious fuel save, then had enough fuel to complete the cool-down lap and cap it off with a burnout too. 

“It doesn’t always work out,” Dixon said. “It’s a difficult discipline, trying to make sure before the race that you know you’re going to need a car that really rolls well through the corner. It’s not just all about technique. There’s a lot of steps to take. Even for me today, I wasn’t sure we were going to get that. When you do, it feels damn good.”

Herta was left dumbfounded at the manner in which Dixon seamlessly made his way to the front of the field, while Palou admitted he could not have matched what his Ganassi teammate could achieve with such a difficult fuel number to meet.

“I don’t think I could have made it work like Scott did,” Palou said. “I was not surprised that he took it because he knows he can make it work. I don’t know how. I’ll probably study that tonight.”

Palou said that Dixon is “probably cheating and has an extra fuel cell” but quickly clarified that this was indeed a joke. It speaks volumes that even the champion from two of the last three seasons is mesmerised at the way in which the six-time champion is able to so frequently make the impossible highly possible.

“Once he took it, I was like: ‘He’s going to make it work,’” Palou said. “It’s super tough if you know the numbers he has to get, what he has to do driving-wise.”

Herta was the driver tasked with chasing Dixon down in the closing laps, but worn tyres meant he could not fight the Kiwi, who still had push-to-pass in hand to defend with despite his mammoth fuel save.

“Exiting the corners, it was hard to get a run on him because he could use it, sprint away, have nice big lifts at the end of the straight,” Herta said. “It made it hard from my perspective to choose what time to use my push-to-pass and what time to save it. It was a pretty impressive win to have to do that many laps. It’s impressive.”

Given he “lost” out to Dixon, in his words, Herta still believed his primary strategy was not the right one. But whether he could have matched what Dixon produced and won the race on the alternate strategy remains to be seen. 

“It would have been tough in our position where we were on track to make that call, especially with the tires that we were on,” he said. “It was pretty brave to make that call - same with Will up at the front. I knew it was doable from my pre-race strategy. Man, I think they pitted on lap 17… that’s difficult. That’s very early.”

A tough race for Rosenqvist

After starting on pole - the first driver to do so for Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) - Felix Rosenqvist’s day did not go quite as planned. He was overtaken by Power, sporting the faster alternate tyres, at the first corner but continued to lose positions through the early laps.

“We had some issues with the brakes,” Rosenqvist said. “They ran really hot and I was just completely off with my bias. I had to chase it and just lacked braking performance and kept getting passed into turn one, inside and outside. I just didn’t really have braking confidence. If you don’t have that, you can’t protect and you can’t go forward.”

There has been a suggestion that Rosenqvist may have picked up some debris, but it is nonetheless something the team will look into.

“It’s something that we’ve been figuring out,” he said. “Two, three laps we’ve been good and then anything beyond that it has just been going a bit out of control. Anyway, the guys did well, we kept our heads cool, even if it sucks. It sucks plummeting through the field.”

Rosenqvist still picked up a ninth-place finish and sits seventh in the standings. Major encouragement can still be drawn from two front row qualifying finishes, along with top spot in his Thermal exhibition heat race and an eventual third-place finish in the $1 Million Challenge. It has been an excellent start to MSR’s season.

A day of learning for Blomvqist

Rookie Tom Blomqvist cut a disappointed figure after qualifying, despite a 15th-place result coming during only his fifth points-paying IndyCar event and his first visit to Long Beach in an Indy car. There was a gulf between himself and teammate Rosenqvist on pole, but it was a stride forward from a solid 17th in St. Petersburg.

The race did see Blomqvist drop back to finish 22nd, in keeping with the regression made by Rosenqvist further up the field. 

“Bad day for us,” Blomqvist said. “At the start, a big traffic jam at the fountain… did some damage to the wing. We kind of messed things up a bit today. It’s one of those days in motorsport where you have to learn a lot and make sure you don’t repeat these mistakes. Ultimately we changed the wing but did it probably at the wrong time. 

“It cost us, put us a lap down. And then your race is over. So not really a fun day… At the moment we’re learning what not to do I guess. But you’ve got to take the small positives from it. But obviously, right now, a bit frustrated. Just need to iron out all the errors really. That’s what our focus needs to be on.”

Siegel’s points-paying debut

Indy NXT by Firestone sophomore - and winner of their season-opener in St. Pete - Nolan Siegel ran the first of three planned points-paying IndyCar races for Dale Coyne Racing at Long Beach - his official debut after catching the eye at the Thermal Club with a seventh-place finish in the more difficult of two heat races. 

The 19-year-old Californian qualified at the rear but ran competitively within the mid-pack before ultimately finishing 20th in his No.51 machine.

“It was a long one,” he said. “The guys did a great job. The car was way, way better in the race than I think it has been all weekend. We had good stops and overall it went smoothly. We picked up seven spots, the pace seemed pretty strong. It’s really hard to pass around here. But I feel good and I’m happy with the day.”

Siegel will next be in a Coyne car for the Indianapolis 500, driving the No.18 that he was supposed to be in for Long Beach. But the team ultimately opted to field Jack Harvey for an extra race beyond his initial 14-race programme in the No.18 car as they appear to bid to find some more continuity as they look for improvement after an uncertain off-season.

Harvey started 23rd but fell foul of damage after being half-collected by Christian Rasmussen as the rookie hit the wall to bring out the race’s only caution. This meant Harvey would finish 25th and two laps down.

“We moved up a couple of places on the opening laps,” Harvey said. “Then Rasmussen spun and honestly I had nowhere to go. He hit me as he was spinning back down the track and hit the wall again. It damaged the floor, it damaged the sidepod… just lost a tonne of downforce and grip because of that. And that was pretty much the race.

“I think the positives from the weekend… we were better today [in the race] than we were yesterday [in qualifying]. I think we moved the car along so hopefully we can just continue a little bit of momentum. Obviously it didn’t show in the race unfortunately. But if we can start progressing through a weekend, I think we should start seeing some real progress soon.”

Juncos’ impressive start

Romain Grosjean finished inside the top 10 three times with Andretti Global across 17 races in 2023 - two of which were early-season podiums. The eighth-place finish achieved in only his second race with Juncos Hollinger Racing would have been his fourth-best driving for one of the series’ powerhouse teams last year.

“P16 to P8… it was a great Long Beach Grand Prix for us,” Grosjean said. “Agustin did a great race as well. As a team, we can be proud that we improved a lot from St. Pete. I’m happy that we were able to show such a strong outing on that race track.”

Grosjean’s teammate Agustin Canapino, in his sophomore season, made up five places to finish 15th after starting in 20th place. 

“The execution was really, really good,” Canapino said. “Unfortunately the strategy wasn’t the best at the end - we had bad luck with the strategy. But the execution was perfect. Excellent pit stops, the pace was incredible… we could finish in a good top 15 in a really, really difficult race. We are really happy.”

Mixed emotions at Foyt

AJ Foyt Racing have not yet reaped the ultimate rewards of their technical alliance with Penske. And there were mixed emotions in their camp after the Long Beach weekend. 

For Sting Ray Robb, in his second championship round with the team, an 18th-place finish was his fourth-best finish in his 19-race IndyCar career as he made up seven places. For the first time in his short stint in the series, he visibly appeared to have a genuine edge on a teammate in race trim - in keeping with the progress he often makes in sophomore seasons.

“We have concluded the Long Beach Grand Prix on somewhat of a high note,” Robb said. “Really proud of the team - we had some really good pit stops, we made up a few spots along the way on strategy, avoiding the attrition. Super proud of the progress we made through the weekend. We needed a really clean day - today was that clean day.”

On Santino Ferrucci’s side, there were mitigating factors for a tough weekend. Technical issues curtailed his running as he completed a field-low 21 laps across the two pre-qualifying sessions. He started 24th in the race but could only make his way up to 21st and finish a lap down.

“Not our day, not our weekend,” Ferrucci said. “Couldn’t get off in practice one, couldn’t get off in practice two, didn’t qualify well. Race was what it was. Took a gamble with the pit stops - we figured we would either end up in the top 10 or 20th and we ended up 20th.”


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