Scott Dixon is now within six points of catching Will Power for the IndyCar championship after winning a wild Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
Dixon, who started a lowly 14th, silently carved his way to win his second race of the season despite a late surge from countryman Scott McLaughlin who led most of the race.
The second Music City Grand Prix looked set to take place in scorching heat, with temperatures hitting the mid-30s on race morning, causing some drivers to wear a cool vest so that they could cope with the heat. However, barely an hour before the scheduled start time, heavy rain entered the Nashville area, forcing fans to run for shelter and delaying the start by just over two hours.
McLaughlin lined up on pole position for the first time since the season opener in St Petersburg, with Romain Grosjean second on the grid ahead of the ever-impressive rookie Christian Lundgaard and Alex Palou.
Pato O’Ward started fifth alongside local hero Josef Newgarden with row four consisting of David Malukas and Power, who had initially qualified inside the fast six before having his fastest time deleted after causing a yellow flag. Graham Rahal made it two Rahal Letterman Lanigan cars in the top 10 with ninth in front of the recently re-signed Rinus Veekay. All but three of the top 10 would start on the new green shod guayule compound of tyre.
When the green flag dropped, McLaughlin got a superb launch and held his lead into the final corner with Grosjean under attack from Palou, who immediately dispatched Lundgaard as the field completed the first lap of racing without incident.
Marcus Ericsson had work to do after being found to have jumped the start, with the stewards ordering Ericsson to give up two positions. Meanwhile, Colton Herta’s race was compromised when Dalton Kellett pushed the Californian into the wall at Turn four, forcing him into the pits for a new front wing. Ericsson and Rossi were among the first to pit, switching to the primary tyres and dropping to the back of the pack but still on the lead lap.
Rossi wasn’t able to take advantage of his new tyres as when he approached Turn 10, he locked up into the corner, stalling the engine and consequently dropping him off the lead lap as the pace car came out for the first time.
On Lap 11, the pace car peeled in, and racing got underway with McLaughlin’s restart timing his restart to perfection as Lundgaard lost fourth spot to O’Ward on the approach to Turn one.
But Lundgaard got his own back two laps later, repassing the Mexican for fourth with ease as the top six started to string itself out with Simon Pagenaud, the first of the top 10 to stop for tyres on Lap 20.
Palou was next in for primaries on Lap 22, but it would turn out to be an ill-timed call as the caution was back out after Helio Castroneves lost his Meyer Shank machine on the approach to the Korean war veteran memorial bridge, as the field boxed for tyres with McLaughlin hold his net race lead ahead of Grosjean and Power who jumped Lundgaard.
Palou led the field back to green on Lap 25, with Pagenaud moving into second and Malukas into third as Jimmie Johnson continued to haemorrhage positions.
However, it wasn’t long until the pace car came back out as Rahal and O’Ward came together at Turn seven, taking the Mexican out. Whilst further back at the same corner, Callum Ilott stalled after being baulked by the O’Ward/Rahal shunt ending Kellett’s and Simona De Silvestro’s race.
Next to hit trouble was Dixon, who stopped for repairs and a front wing adjustment dropping him to the back of the pack as the clean-up continued,
Palou’s second restart saw him weave intensely in front of the pack as they approached the final corner. Behind the leaders, chaos ensued as Ilott and Rossi came together, putting the Brit out, with DeFrancesco and Sato also making contact into Turn one, bringing out the third caution of the race and putting both out.
A restart was set to take place at half distance before being waved off due to race officials not being happy with the speed of race leader Palou, but on the second attempt, the field got away cleanly as Pagenaud issued a love tap to the Spaniard approaching turn one meanwhile McLaughlin got his elbows out to pass Malukas for third at Turn three.
That became second on Lap 44 with an inspired move on the Frenchman into Turn three as Pagenaud lost positions to Malukas and Grosjean the next lap.
Veekay’s top 10 run ended after he locked up into turn one, causing the Dutchman to go into the pits for fresh rubber. However, the Dutchman didn’t get very far as he ran into the back of Rahal’s wrecked car, sending him back into the pits and ending Rahal’s day for good as the caution came back out for the fifth time.
The caution period allowed the rest of the field to complete their final stops with Grosjean and Kirkwood jockeying for ninth position at the pit exit, with the Frenchman coming out the victor. Now Newgarden led the field over the line to restart racing on Lap 57 mercifully without much incident despite some wheel banging in the mid-pack.
Kyle Kirkwood had made a superb three-wide move for seventh at the restart, but his hard work came to nought as the stewards found him to be too eager at the restart, and as a result, he was told to drop to ninth.
Herta, meanwhile, was producing a stellar comeback drive carving his way from last to fifth with just over a quarter of the race left to run. He then looked to inherit fourth as Palou hit Power’s damaged car on the bridge, causing the front wing endplate to flap.
Palou and Newgarden got a lucky break when the caution came back out for the sixth time after Malukas and Kirkwood ended their great drives by making contact into turn one, damaging both cars beyond repair.
With just ten laps to go, Dixon led, but he now had his mirrors full of Lundgaard, who fancied his chances of taking the lead into turn one but to no avail as Dixon held his lead.
Then with just nine laps to go, Ericsson slowed after losing drive costing the Swede all chance of closing the gap to Power in the championship race.
Lundgaard had fallen into the clutches of McLaughlin, who now had plenty of push to pass left, but just as the Kiwi closed, Johnson lost the rear of his number 48 Carvana Honda bringing out the seventh caution of the race.
At the final restart, Dixon got the jump on Lundgaard into Turn one, with McLaughlin catching the Dane napping and snatching second, but the caution came out again as Grosjean and Newgarden came together, putting the enraged Frenchman out of the race. To add to the drama, Ericsson finally lost drive at the same time the red flag came out with just four laps left to go.
Shortly after Grosjean’s car was removed, the race was officially restarted for one final lap of racing, with Dixon holding his lead as Palou steamed down the inside of Lundgaard, who fell back to sixth by the time the white flag was waved.
It was now or never for McLaughlin as they approached the bridge for the final time, but the younger Kiwi just couldn’t quite get past his countryman, who took his 53rd IndyCar victory, putting him firmly back into championship contention and moving him into second on the list of most series wins surpassing Mario Andretti with Palou taking the final spot on the rostrum in spite of a damaged front wing.
Rossi and Herta came home a superb fourth and fifth after stellar comeback drives, whilst Newgarden came home a disappointed sixth ahead of Felix Rosenqvist, Lundgaard, Jack Harvey and Pagenaud.
During the post-race conference, which Motorlat virtually attended, Dixon reviewed his race that, at one stage, looked over after a series of incidents had severely damaged his car.
“It was a wild day; we had a good start. I thought things were going well, and then we came in for the first stop and then the air jacks failed. We went all the way to the back, got into the chaos at turns five and six and just got rolled over the back and hit pretty hard, and we actually couldn’t get the wheel off as it was stuck on the brake calliper, so it took the team a lot of time to get that off.”
“The car was bent and broken, but for us, I think strategy-wise to take no tyres on that last stop was probably the key where we were able to jump a couple (of positions) and have enough fuel to get to the end, but it was very difficult to drive the car just had no grip so each time we had a restart I was just praying for another accident, and some of those came some of those didn’t another lap with McLaughlin would have been extremely tough he was just super fast and in a better situation then us.”