Written by Archie O’Reilly, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri
“Yeah… Scott Dixon did Scott Dixon today,” Pato O’Ward told NBC, rather perplexed, after Dixon’s victory in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway (WWTR).
When Dixon is in the sort of form he is in now, having won the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Road Course, there is little his competitors can do to get anywhere near. “They were telling me on the radio, ‘The No.9 car is trying to make it until the end’,” O’Ward continued. “He’s going to make it until the end.”
Back-to-back wins - his 54th and 55th - mean Dixon is now only 12 victories away from AJ Foyt’s record of 67 in second-place of the all-time list. It now looks foolish that many doubted he would win a race this season - for the 19th consecutive year - heading into the Brickyard weekend.
The Kiwi has often lacked the outright speed and peak performance compared to his competitors this year, but Dixon is an expert at finding ways to get to the front, and he frankly doesn’t need to be the outright fastest. He is one of the most intelligent racing drivers we have seen, and he can make the absolute most of any strategy.
Mike Hull and Dixon’s strategy team at Chip Ganassi Racing can give their driver almost anything with the knowledge that he will make do, no matter how outlandish it may be. He can do and execute things that nobody else can, to the extent of something being a risk for another driver simply isn’t that much of a gamble for Dixon.
It is almost bewildering how Dixon, time and time again, manages to seamlessly find his way to the front, after barely being a factor in races. For his recent successive wins, he started in 15th and 16th - the latter due to an engine penalty - but qualifying can be largely irrelevant for Dixon.
It was fitting that the first of this season’s wins came on the day of his 319th consecutive race start in IndyCar, breaking the all-time record for successive starts.
The race actually got off to a poor start, Dixon finding himself at the rear of the pack, having been spun around by Romain Grosjean amid a melee caused by teammates Alex Palou and Marcus Armstrong colliding. But Dixon often thrives when there is adversity, and an opportunity arose to gamble on an early pit stop during the ensuing caution period. Again, though, a gamble for Dixon rarely proves to be much of a gamble.
Graham Rahal appeared to have the fastest car throughout the weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and looked in the best position to win, but on his alternative strategy, it was Dixon who cycled to the front to become the legitimate race leader, after the final round of pit stops. As is often a theme with Dixon, he was the only one to make this strategy remotely work.
The six-time IndyCar champion did find himself under duress from Rahal on the closing lap, and one more lap could have seen a second win of the year for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team. However, it wasn't a coincidence that Dixon managed the gap to Rahal so impeccably; he measured his pace perfectly, whilst saving fuel and managing his tyres.
Even more unthinkable was the manner in which Dixon grabbed control at Gateway two weeks later, almost schooling the field. This included dominating Josef Newgarden, who was attempting to complete the clean sweep of oval wins this season, as the American found the odds unexpectedly stacked against him, and ultimately hit the wall late on, in his bid to push and catch Dixon.
There was some fortune in Dixon finding his way to the front of the field, with a caution for Takuma Sato crashing, at a time when Dixon led off-strategy, allowing him to maintain the lead while stopping at the same time as other contenders, namely Newgarden and O’Ward. But from here, he would still have to fend off two exceptionally fast cars.
When there is luck, you still have to make the most of it, and Dixon is able to do so more than anybody. So, as others stopped early to come home on two more stops, Dixon and his team opted to try and make it on one more stop to complete a three-stop, with major fuel saving required.
Some fear alternate strategies, and many of the lead pack decided to cover off other early stoppers. But not Dixon.
This sort of race is where Dixon is in his element, managing these situations better than anyone. It was perceived to be a tyre-limited race at WWTR, with the extra factor of alternate tyres having to be used in one stint, so Dixon had to manage his tyres’ degradation, as well as fuel.
It spoke to Dixon’s excellence that many others attempted his strategy at Gateway, just as in Indy a fortnight earlier, but couldn’t execute it and had to bail - even if they had stopped more recently. Lots has been made of the Honda engine possibly having better fuel mileage than the Chevrolet, but even Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean and Kyle Kirkwood couldn’t make the three-stop work.
A 64-lap final stint was a challenge on the face of things, no doubt. But no serious headway could be made on Dixon, and second-placed O’Ward, who was on par with oval supremo Newgarden for most of the race before the American’s incident, finished over 22 seconds back.
This doubled the previous widest winning margin at WWTR, and it spoke to the efficiency of Dixon’s drive that, even while saving fuel considerably, an all-out, pushing O’Ward simply failed to make any noteworthy inroads.
Dixon now sits 74 points back from teammate Palou, with two races to go - the only other driver still mathematically in contention for the championship, with Palou bidding to end a 17-year run of the championship fight going down to the final race, such has been the remarkable nature of his season.
In many ways, Dixon will feel he has put up a championship-worthy campaign, and if it had gone even slightly differently, he could have been genuinely still in the fight, rather than Palou being in touching distance of sealing the deal.
Long Beach stands out as a crucial loss of points for Dixon, when contact with Pato O’Ward saw him end up in a tyre barrier, and damage ultimately led to a retirement. Excluding this anomalous result, Dixon has finished inside the top seven in every race, giving him a worse finish than championship-leading teammate Palou’s eighth-place.
There are still two races to run in 2023, but Dixon has had at least two finishes worse than seventh-place, and often many more, in each of his six championship-winning campaigns, meaning he is en-route to one of the most consistent seasons, in an illustrious career of consistency.
Consistency is arguably the most important trait for an IndyCar driver, shown last year when Will Power won the championship with only a single victory, despite teammates Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin winning five and three races respectively. Palou, with four victories and a worse finish of eighth, has gone even better this year.
Dixon will probably feel he hasn’t managed to get himself onto the rostrum as much as he would like this season, with only a single second-place and single third-place, aside from his two wins. This and the misfortune at Long Beach makes up the deficit to Palou.
Nonetheless, once again, Dixon is coming good to cap off the campaign. He may be 43, but he is still absolutely capable of blowing the entire field away, with some of the most unfathomable performances you’ll ever see.