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IndyCar resumes: Dixon dominates at Texas

NTT INDYCAR Series GENESYS 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

IndyCar resumes: Dixon dominates at Texas

Fort Worth, TX, June 6/20 (GRW): IndyCar finally broke out of its pandemic hiatus with this 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The return to racing was a welcome change after the many weeks of lockdown but this often-difficult venue did not produce a classic race. Perhaps we need to say it was better than nothing and, hopefully, that this was the beginning of better days of racing.

The five-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon dominated the race on his way to a convincing win. Simon Pagenaud was second, Josef Newgarden third, Zach Veach fourth and Ed Carpenter fifth. The average speed for the race was 175.2 mph while the fastest single lap was set by Rosenqvist at 215 mph; this difference was more due to the many rounds of green -flag pit stops for tires rather than for the race’s four cautions.

Dixon said, “ We had a couple mistakes at the start and throughout the race, but we recovered. It was awesome. Honda, they were huge with the power out there. It was just so fast. Any situation we were in, we could just go for it. ... We had to make some big, bold moves around the outside into Turn 1, especially on Felix (Rosenqvist) and on Josef (Newgarden), which was definitely a nice repay (for Newgarden beating him in qualifying) and a nice way to get back to the lead."

Newgarden had snatched the pole from Dixon in qualifying and he looked like being a strong challenger to Dixon but a persistent vibration – tires? – made his race an endurance run while he tried to stave off disaster due to the tire problem and he counted himself lucky to finish in third place.

Newgarden said, “"Tonight was just a night for just hanging on for the No. 1 XPEL Chevrolet. We came home with a podium finish, and that is what we needed to do. You have to have nights like this. Tonight was a night to swallow your pride and get the best out of what you got. If I can go out there and win the race, I'm going to try and do it. But tonight wasn't that night.”

Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist had settled into a comfortable second place during the second half of the race but, on lap 190 of the 200-lap race, he was forced up out of the single track groove by a laps down back-marker. Once up out of the only viable groove, he spin and crashed out of the race.

"I can't blame others for whatever situation I have,” said Rosenqvist. “Obviously, we came out on new tires, and I don't know if James (Hinchcliffe) was on really old tires there. It's my judgment. I went for the outside, and I probably shouldn't have done it. It's one of those things where you sit there and you're going like 40 mph slower than you want to go behind another car. It's kind of tempting to just move up one lane, but it was just so slippery. I just feel really sorry for my guys.”

Unfortunately, after waiting so long for the 2020 IndyCar season to get underway it had to be here at Texas Motor Speedway and it had to be such a unsatisfying race.

The Texas track has had a long history of being a problematic place for Indy cars to race at. The first try was with CART and that time they found that the cars were so fast that the G-forces were causing divers to black out; they cancelled the race before it began. Over the years there have been many problems created by this short, fast venue – but this year’s edition will be one of the more memorable for its fiasco of a race.

This year the race was faced with a number of problems. First, the cars and drivers (some new to oval racing) had to start in their first race of the season with no prior testing or practice. There was a single practice session and a qualifying run the day of the race but that was all. At least one of the drivers had never driven on any oval track, let alone this tricky one.

Second, due to the pandemic shutdown, Firestone had been unable to produce tire for this track and they had to fall back on stock of old tires intended for previous year’s events. IndyCar agreed to a rule that each car could not run for more that 35 laps before they pitted for another set of compromised tires (reminiscent of the tire-gate F1 event at Indianapolis).

Third, last year, NASCAR had laid down a broad swath of ‘traction compound’ on all the upper grooves in the corners, leaving only one lane – the bottom one – that had not received this treatment. As we know from watching NASCAR races where this traction compound gimmickry has become prevalent, this produces a surface that has less traction – not more – until the compound is ‘warmed up’ by the cars running over it. In NASCAR these seems to work out, producing an additional interesting element to the racing strategy over the course of the race. For this IndyCar race it seemed as if the old traction compound must have weathered into a kind of slippery varnish surface and that – even it they had run up there enough to ‘warm’ it up – it was never going to be anything but slippery. This meant that, effectively, the race track was a single groove – the bottom one – through the corners. Anyone who forgot this and ventured up onto the ‘sticky stuff’ paid the price. Hence there were limited passing opportunities, limited to passing on the short front and back straights.

PHOTO TRACTION COMPOUND 16CO0922 1 2The cars go low to avoid the slippery 'traction compound' in the corner (INDYCAR/Chris Owens)

The race started badly. Takuma Sato had crashed in qualifying and his team could not complete repairs in the short time interval before the race began. Three cars – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, and Alexander Rossi had problems getting lined up for the start and the first two were given drive-through penalties.

The race had barely gotten underway when the ‘traction compound’ claimed its first victims. The rookie Rinus VeeKay went high and once on the black stuff he was out control, sliding right up into the outside wall and then bouncing back down to the bottom of the track where he collected another rookie, Alex Palou, ending the race for both of them. Already, Newgarden was having to deal with his vibration problem and he had pitted a couple laps early ahead of the mandatory tire-change cycle and this put him out of sequence for the tire stop rounds that were going to follow.

From that point onwards, Dixon had control, leading all the way but for a few laps when he pitted earlier than Scott Veach and Newgarden, letting them lead until the pit stops cycled back around to him leading again. The cars, almost without exception, stayed down in the lower, higher-traction groove making the race a mostly single-file affair.

On lap 121 Newgarden, who had been maintaining second behind Dixon, pitted for more tires and fell back – to fifth place. This let Dixon’s teammate Rosenqvist up into second place running two or three seconds back. After the next round of pit stops, the order was Dixon, Rosenqvist and Newgarden – with Rosenqvist a second or two back and Newgarden more than ten seconds further behind in third place.

Now that the race was in its final quarter it looked like things had settled into this order for the finish. One final round of tire change pit stops and the order stayed the same. But now disaster for Rosenqvist – who had closed up to less than a second behind Dixon before that last round of pit stops. But now Rosenqvist came up to pass James Hinchcliffe, who was two laps down, as they entered the turn one-two sequence. Hinchcliffe went up to the top of the lower, untreated groove and this forced Rosenqvist up onto the ‘black stuff’, His car immediately lost grip and spun, sending him crashing into the outer wall – and ending his race.

In the few laps remaining after this yellow ended, Dixon maintained his lead. Pagenaud, who had also been complaining of ‘vibration ‘ earlier, was second, some 4 seconds back with Newgarden third.

Click HERE for the results of the Genesys 300 at TMS

The next IndyCar race will be the GMR Grand Prix on Saturday, July 4 on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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