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IndyCar Drivers’ View: “Reckless” restarts, Dixon’s jeopardy and post-500 resets

Written by Archie O’Reilly


The IndyCar Series’ annual visit to Detroit - the second on the new downtown circuit - provided one of the yearly chaotic, caution-filled affairs. There were eight separate caution periods across 47 of the 100 laps, plus 13 penalties awarded - four of which were for Will Power en-route to a sixth-place finish.


As is often the case in this sort of attritional race with a lot of yellow periods and unconventional strategies, Scott Dixon reigned supreme to move within nine victories of AJ Foyt’s record. It was a similar nature of race to that which Dixon won on the streets of Nashville in 2022 and at Laguna Seca in the final race of the 2023 season.


Marcus Ericsson notched his first podium in Andretti Global overalls with second and Marcus Armstrong - alongside childhood hero, countryman and now-teammate Dixon, completed the top three with his maiden IndyCar rostrum visit. Here is how the drivers reacted…


Dixon’s “rollercoaster” victory


Dixon said post-race that “anything is on the table no matter where you start on the grid” in a race of Detroit’s nature, on a tight, bumpy street course. He made his way from a fifth-place start to victory, though no drivers’ day was as straightforward as a simple progression forward from their qualifying position.


“It was definitely action packed,” Dixon added. “So many ups and downs. It’s a bit of a rollercoaster. Obviously for us, we took a pretty wild strategy to pit… I don’t even know, maybe 40 laps from the end. I said at the Lap 50 caution that we could make it from that point.


“Just with the cautions we had, most of the race was just restarts looking in the rearview mirror in Turn 3 and making sure there wasn’t anybody coming down that was going to take out the whole load of you. Wild race, quick conditions… conditions were very tough. We saw tyres going off that we didn’t think were going to. It was definitely pretty wild and full-on.”


Dixon further admitted he felt the victory had “a little bit of luck” to it. But his No.9 Ganassi crew so frequently roll the dice on audacious strategies and he executes them to perfection - as was the case in Long Beach with a major fuel save back in April. 


“Long Beach we took an aggressive approach,” he said. “If we were lucky, we would have had some caution - we had to do it the very difficult way of having no caution. Today it kind of played out that way a little bit but it was tight. A lot of people on our strategy didn’t make it.”


Herta-fuelled jeopardy for Dixon


Dixon’s late-race lead was almost scuppered by Colton Herta being in front on track at the rear end of the lead lap. The pole-sitter, who caused the race’s fifth caution after out-braking himself into Turn 5, did not have to allow Dixon past as he hoped for a late yellow.


“Herta made it difficult for us there,” Dixon said of how much this impacted the end of his race amid a 27-lap, race-high green flag period to conclude the 100 laps. “We knew they were going to be two or three laps short [on fuel] but they threw the Hail Mary of getting their lap back. Had to push on him… the cars from behind were starting to encroach on us.”


Dixon did eventually force the issue to pull off a risky pass on Herta inside the closing laps - a move that proved pivotal amid gains made by teammate Armstrong and the fast charge of Ericsson from behind that earned him second place


“The way that I might save fuel is different to [Herta],” Dixon said. “He was getting me very out of sync. You need free and clean air because you want a very positive front. He definitely made it difficult for me. That’s why I made the lunge on him. We know he’s not going to go to the end. It was a bit frustrating there. 


“I’m watching obviously on my dash the gap behind. Marcus [Armstrong] was doing a great job getting the [fuel] number, obviously great speed. When he got within a second, I’m like: ‘We need to go here.’ It was a little tighter than I thought it was going to be on fuel. Got the blue light with two to go… that’s not good. But we were totally fine.”


Dixon led a Honda one-two-three-four, with Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood fourth, in Team Chevy’s backyard in the shadows of General Motors’ headquarters. It was a necessary bounce-back from Honda after a Month of May riddled by a speed deficit and reliability issues.


“Drivability is always fantastic with Honda,” he said. “Obviously drivability and fuel mileage plays a big factor, especially in these street courses, how bumpy they are. I think they still have the upper hand there.”


Dixon now leads teammate Alex Palou, who was caught up in a spin for Josef Newgarden, by 18 points in the championship after the reigning champion’s run of 23 successive top-eight finishes came to an end with a 16th-place finish. He was also bolstered by possible championship rival Herta finishing 19th, Scott McLaughlin 20th and Newgarden 26th.


“It’s not good to see a teammate have a bad day,” Dixon said. “Alex had issues right from the start, burning the rears off the car. Once you get back in the melee there, it can go one way or the other. Obviously he got collected in that situation. If you look at a couple of the Penske cars, a lot of guys you know are going to be racing for the championship had a tough day.” 


Ericsson resets after “terrible” May


Ericsson’s first Indianapolis 500 campaign with Andretti was, in his own words, a “really tough” one. He came in off the back of victory in 2022 and a runner-up finish in 2023 but saw his 2024 fortnight spiral after an opening-week practice crash on Thursday. This led to a Last Chance Qualifying appearance that saw him start 32nd.


His race then ended before two corners had even been completed as he innocently collected the spun Tom Blomqvist, seeing him finish 33rd in the order.


“It wasn’t weird, it was terrible,” he said. “I think we went through everything that Month of May. Felt like I aged probably five years during that month.”


The 33-year-old described the start to life at Andretti as “tough” after initial pace that saw him qualify sixth and fifth in St. Petersburg and Long Beach. He was taken out by a mechanical issue in St. Pete before finishing fifth in Long Beach. He then finished 18th at Barber Motorsports Park and 16th on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.


“Going into this weekend after the Month of May we had, it was really tough mentally,” Ericsson said. “That Month of May was draining because we had to work so hard and we got so little. I think the whole No.28 group has come together well going into this weekend. We all talked together and said: ‘Let’s reset, press that big red button, get our 2024 2.0 going.’


“That was the mindset coming into this weekend. We had some issues in practice, but the car felt great all sessions really. Qualifying was decent. Today we showed in the race that we had the pace to fight up front all day. Really, really proud of the team. It was not an easy race. Everyone made good decisions. Well-deserved to be on the podium.”


For Ericsson, the outcome in Detroit felt like vindication for his team’s hard work.


“You can either lie down and feel sorry for yourself or you get up and work hard and prepare yourself and try and dig deep and go and deliver. That’s what we decided on the No.28 group - we were going to go to Detroit, do a good weekend, get our season back on track. We had a lot of work put in this week leading up to this race. I’m happy it paid off.”


Ericsson qualified ninth before weathering the race’s dose of disarray to cycle forward, passing Kirkwood and Armstrong late on, before being able to make a late-race charge as others saved fuel. 


“I think we had 15 laps to go when I felt the car was really good,” he said. “I had no fuel concerns. I could push hard. Then I could see Scott and Marcus up the road. The tough thing is with Scott Dixon, he’s the best ever in doing what he did today, saving the fuel then having enough pace. If there is someone that’s hard to beat, it’s him. 


“It was tough. Also Marcus put on a really good fight. One more lap, who knows what would have happened? We’ll have to take a P2 today. We tried. We gave it everything.”


Armstrong podium “a long time coming”


Armstrong has quietly impressed in the early stages of his IndyCar career after moving over from FIA Formula 2 for the 2023 season. He finished five of his 12 first-season races inside the top 10 amid a non-oval schedule. And he has continued on with that trajectory into this year, notching a career-best fifth-place finish at Barber before now finishing third in Detroit.


“I’m very pleased,” he said. “In my opinion, it’s been a long time coming, even though this is my second season. It was a difficult one. Obviously it was pretty chaotic. I think being a strategist today was more stressful than being a driver. I have to give a big shoutout to my strategist Taylor Kiel. He always places me perfectly to maximise the situation we find.


“Ultimately on the last stint, I was having to achieve quite a big fuel number, as was Scott. But Scott does what Scott does. I actually ran out of fuel as I came across the line. So we timed it perfectly. Otherwise I would have fought Marcus a little bit harder in the end. It was necessary just to coast in and take the podium.”


Armstrong’s weekend started with his worst qualifying of the season in 18th. He had qualified inside the top 10 in the four prior road-and-street races and was second-best Ganassi in Indy 500 qualifying in 16th - his first career oval race. His Indy 500 unfortunately ended with an engine failure before a racing lap had even been completed.


“I had to do a massive amount of prep - ‘study’ for lack of a better word - to be ready for that race,” he said. “We concluded if we can work a bit harder for the 500, we can work that hard for every race. In qualifying, we didn’t show half of our potential unfortunately. I’m happy that we did so today and we can take some momentum to next weekend.”


Did drivers overstep the mark?


All 47 of the caution laps came inside a 73-lap period, with the longest green flag running being only 13 laps within that period. From Lap 33 to 59, there was not a completed green lap, with four cautions in immediate succession.


“I think people are driving reckless on the restarts,” Ericsson said. “I don’t know if we need to look at how we steward these kinds of races. I’m sure it was dramatic and fun to watch. At some point also we need to have a bit of a better standard. We’re one of the best racing series in the world. We shouldn’t be driving on top of each other every single restart. 


“Obviously I haven’t seen the race, I was just driving it. I saw in my mirrors every time on the restart, four, five-wide. I was just praying not to get hit pretty much every restart.”


It was put to Ericsson whether more extreme penalties need to be handed out, with five avoidable contact penalties brandished and punishments ranging from stop-and-go orders to restarting at the rear of the field and yielding positions.


“I don’t know,” Ericsson said. “I did watch the Indy 500 unfortunately. That was pretty crazy as well. I think we were lucky there weren’t more incidents there because some of the driving there was also on the limit. We’re some of the best drivers in the world. We shouldn’t be having incidents like today. 


“I make mistakes as well. I’m not going to put the finger on everyone else. I think, as a series, we can definitely improve.”


This discussion prompted Armstrong to ask whether Christian Lundgaard was penalised for spinning Romain Grosjean - a Lap 53 incident that saw Armstrong stuck in the stack up with nowhere to go. That moment made his drive back to second in less than half-race distance all the more impressive. He has his own theory for the cause of the chaos.


“It’s very slippery,” Armstrong said. “The tyres this season have been very robust - you can’t really generate temperature. Even towards the end of the stint it’s not like they’re in the right window. I think a lot of the mistakes are also caused by the fact that the tyre is not working early in the run, especially when they’re cold. 


“If you brake where you think you should brake, occasionally you just drive straight through someone. I’m sure mistakes today also were not by the intention of the driver trying to lunge everyone but because he didn’t have the grip to stop. 


“A lot of the moves were very ambitious. The braking distances are quite long. I think that’s quite inviting. Perhaps it needs a bit of a rethink.”


Dixon separately mentioned a similar point to Armstrong regarding the harder tyre compound in anticipation for the introduction of the heavier hybrid power unit. He said it is “very hard” to switch on the primary tyres performance-wise, making it easier to lock the front tyres.


Dixon: It’s not embarrassing


Dixon took a slightly different view of the chaos, admittedly because “it was pretty calm” when he was up front.


“I don’t think it’s ever embarrassing,” he said. “I think you do a survey, most people go to races to watch crashes. I don’t... I know when I watch some kind of NASCAR race, they have a similar kind of effect. It’s obviously exciting. Obviously you don’t want to see the caution laps and them taking over.”


He still felt it was calm enough when he was further back in the pack at points, even around certain drivers that are more notorious within the paddock.


“I was around the No.14 [of Santino Ferrucci]... he gets wild here and there,” Dixon said. “He must have used it all up at some point. You’re in confined streets here. It’s tough - you make any kind of mistake…”


Conflicting views about the track


Drivers have also weighed in about the new Detroit track after its second use. Figures such as Ryan Hunter-Reay from a watching brief, plus Pato O’Ward and Graham Rahal from in-car have taken to social media to express how much they miss the old Belle Isle circuit.


“The track… I don’t know what word to use,” Ericsson said. “But it’s challenging, let’s put it that way. That’s a nice way to put it. It’s challenging. It has some great characteristics with the bumps, the walls are close. That is good. But it is very short and twisty for IndyCar. That’s for sure. It’s on the limit of what we can do…


“Seems to create good drama, like we saw last year and this year. They say the bumps and concrete and everything is the full Michigan experience, so that’s good.”


Armstrong takes a different view and has liked the circuit across both of his visits. Though he did bemoan the lack of grip, creating longer braking distances, as Dixon complained about “a lot of wheelspin” as a result.


“Turn 2 is sort of repaved, also Turn 3 I’m sure was repaved - the grip is considerably better,” Armstrong said. “In an ideal world, they would do that to the entire circuit. It probably would create a lot cleaner racing. The actual layout, I like it. It’s fun over one lap. Over a race distance, it’s pretty touch-and-go with yellows. But I enjoy it.”


Dixon, a multi-time winner on the Belle Isle circuit, was also more positive about the track, even if he misses certain quirks from the previous iteration of the Detroit event.


“Any win feels awesome,” he said. “There’s no fountain to jump into, which is definitely a bit different... Some people rode the lions and stuff - that was put to a stop after Hunter-Reay. It’s cool. It’s a new venue - this is going back to historic Detroit, downtown city racing.”


Rain throws additional curveball


On top of the existing incidents, brief rain late in the first half of the race threw an extra element as teams had to weigh up whether to switch to wet tyres. But with the downpour coming under an extended caution, those that remained on slick tyres were benefited and those that switched to wets had to quickly revert back.


“I was like: ‘If we’re going to be under caution for another lap or two, we’re going to be fine,” Dixon said. “It was weird… it would rain in [Turn] 2, rain in [Turn] 3, then very wet [Turn] 7 through 8. The front straight got really wet. I think with some of the temperature and the pavement, it being somewhat of a light shower, it did get very wet out there at one point. 


“I was like: ‘This is going to be really rough.’ Luckily that caution ran on a little bit longer. Once we went back to green, it was fine. I kept asking: ‘Do you see more rain coming?’ If that’s it, we’re fine. Obviously we stayed out.”


Ericsson was another to stay out after deliberation with his team.


“It was tough,” he said. “If this race didn’t have everything, we got rain as well. It was definitely touch-and-go there. We were debating on the radio what to do. I said at one point it’s 50/50. I said I think we should stay out. That’s communication between the team and driver. The team was really good there and made the right decisions.”

2 comments

2 Comments


Guest
Jun 03

Great article, I did find a small error in the Armstrong Podium section, he was able to complete 6 laps at Indy before his engine went

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Replying to

Thank you! These laps were unfortunately under caution - so he did not complete an actual racing lap. Appreciate the comment though :)

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