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Daring strategy at Long Beach GP sends Dixon to 57th career win
Long Beach GP
Colton Herta, from left, Scott Dixon, Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi celebrate in victory lane Saturday at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. - photo by DALE BOSOWSKI

LONG BEACH — After failing to crack the top 10 in any of the weekend’s sessions and finishing eighth in Saturday’s knockout qualifying, it appeared veteran Scott Dixon had little chance of winning Sunday’s 49th Annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach for the NTT IndyCar Series.

A daring pit strategy coupled with his amazing ability to save fuel propelled him to an extraordinary victory that left his competitors in awe.

It was the 57th career win for the 43-year old New Zealander, putting him second on the all-time list behind the legendary AJ Foyt with 67. It also marked the 20th consecutive year he has posted at least one victory, extending his lead on Will Power, who has won in 16 consecutive seasons.

"Still sounds like a lot," Dixon said, as he appraised his chances of catching Foyt. "Of course, this is a big deal. We're still a long way away from that. It's one of those things that I always say hopefully when you leave the sport, you're happy with the stats.”

Felix Rosenqvist (No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing) started the 85-lap race from the pole, but quickly lost the lead when he was swallowed up by Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy) going into the first turn on the opening lap. Power, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, would remain in the lead until a full-course yellow came out on lap 15 after a backmarker smacked the wall while exiting Turn 4.

With the cars able to go about 35 laps maximum at Long Beach on a full tank of fuel, the team managers were put in the precarious position of deciding to pit or stay on the track during the caution. While most of the frontrunners elected to stay out, six drivers, including Dixon and Power, were called into pit lane for an early stop.

As a result, after Dixon and Power made their second and final stop for fuel on lap 51, they were forced to immediately go into full fuel-saving mode, while the remaining frontrunners were able to go an additional 10 laps before their final stop, giving them the luxury of running flat out for the remainder of the race.

Long Beach GP
Scott Dixon holds off the field during the 49th Annual Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

When all the pit stops were complete, Dixon held nearly a five second lead, but Josef Newgarden (No. 11 Hitachi Team Penske Chevy), Colton Herta (No.26 Gainbridge Andretti Autosports Honda) and defending series champion Alex Palou (No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) were all quickly closing on him.

Newgarden seemed poised to make a pass for the lead as he turned into the Turn 11 hairpin to start Lap 78 when he was punted from behind by the equally hard-charging Herta. Newgarden was able to recover, but not until Herta and Palou both moved by him.

"I'm not sure how lifting someone two feet in the air isn't a penalty," said the clearly-irritated Newgarden. "That seems pretty black and white to me, but I'd ask the question to everybody else: If it were in the reverse, I'd expect to be penalized."

Herta saw things a bit differently, of course, although he did take blame for the incident.

"He set up a little wide and was slow coming out of the corner, but ultimately it is up to me to carry the correct speed and not run into him. I just misjudged it,” Herta said. “I don’t think it warranted a drive-through penalty, but I thought race control might require me to give him the spot back.”

While the three remained on Dixon’s tail, none of them were able to get close enough for a final pass attempt after using up their tires trying to chase him down. Now in the clear, Dixon crossed the finish line nearly a full second ahead of Herta.

"Once he took the lead, I was like, 'He's going to make it work,'" said Palou, the reigning 2023 IndyCar Series champion. "Probably he's cheating and he has an extra fuel cell that I don't know about. Yeah, that's it! I'm joking."

Herta was also amazed by Dixon’s ability to stretch his laps while still going fast.

“I still don't completely know how Dixon made it to the front,” said Herta. “I mean, that was pretty impressive.”

It was Dixon’s second victory on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile Long Beach temporary street circuit, joining his triumph in 2015.

“This one was really stressful, that’s for sure. That was tough — really tough,” Dixon said. “Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to make it. 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, overtake, whatever you need.' To get after it for the last two laps without a concern was big.”

Rounding out the top ten behind the four leaders were Marcus Ericssom, Power, 2023 race winner Kyle Kirkwood, Romain Grosjean, Rosenqvist and Alexander Rossi.

The NTT IndyCar Series now heads for Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama next weekend and then it is on to Indianapolis for a race on the road course on Saturday, May 11 and the Indy 500 on Sunday, May 26. The series will make its only stop in Northern California on Sunday, June 23, for the GP of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca.