Like many of his wins, Alex Rossi demolished the field to win for a second straight year.
He didn’t just do it in the race. In qualifying Scott Dixon was sat on pole feeling pretty pleased with himself and then Alex came along, right at the end of the session and layed down a marker to demolaralise the Kiwi. So, it was two Hondas on the front row for the Acura Grand Prix. But the Penske Chevy stunt crew were right behind them, occupying the next three spots.
At the start, Rossi led away with Dixie challenging on the outside into the tight first turn. That went just about as well as you’d expect, and the Californian native kept the lead. Behind them, Marcus Ericsson decided to test the strength of Sam Schmidt’s technical partnership with Michael Shank by nudging the back of Jack Harvey, resulting in Harvey becoming the first driver to smell the roses at The Fountain.
When the inevitable caution flag came out for this the order was Rossi, Dixie, Will Power, championship leader Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Barber winner Takuma Sato, Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta. On the restart Dixie once again tried to challenge Rossi but Babygirl maintained her position, as they pulled a gap on Willy P.
The only action until the first stops was some side-by-side action with Pato and Colton. They ran together from Shoreline Drive right to The Fountain in a superb display of driving. The flowers stayed intact this time but Pato’s hold on 9th didn’t. Indeed, after Colton passed him he lost places to Felix Rosenqvist and Marco Andretti in successive corners.
Rossi maintained position through the first stops but by stopping a couple of laps later than Dixie, JoNew and Willy P managed to leapfrog him, leaving the Iceman swearing away in his helmet, no doubt. Luck was to come his way though. Coming out of the last corner on lap 34, Willy P suffered an overboost which meant Dixie could draw alongside and blow him away. The Australian tried to defend, but found himself braking way too late at turn 1 and with a choice of concrete wall or escape road. He chose the latter and dropped to 8th, with Rossi leading JoNew by 8 seconds, ahead of Dixie, Rahal, RHR and Pagenaud turning up to the party at last.
Until the second set of stops the cars played follow the leader, accompanied by the appropiate song on the PA. When those stops finally came and woke us up from our slumbers, Rossi kept the lead ahead of JoNew. But Dixie’s fuel hose decided to stop flowing the important stuff into the car, resulting in an 18 second stop and the loss of two positions. Lap 58 and the order was Rossi, JoNew, Rahal, RHR, Dixie, Pagenaud, Willy P, Taku, James Hinchcliffe and Felix.
In the final 30 laps everything looked settled, until RHR realised he had no fuel and had to go into “emergency mode” on lap 82. Dixie got passed easily before charging after Graham, who had plenty of fuel but no tyres left.
On the final lap, coming onto the back straight, Graham ran wide after a lock-up. Dixie saw his chance and dived for the inside at the exact moment Graham did the same thing to cover the line. The two gave each other space and raced hard into the last three corners, but Graham kept third by a hair’s breath.
Or so he thought. Dixie was shouting on the radio for IndyCar to review the proactive block that Graham did onto the back straight. IndyCar looked and decided, wrongly, that the move was reactive and demoted Graham to 4th, with Dixie now 3rd. After leaving so many incidents untouched, why couldn’t they leave this one too? Especially as Graham did nothing wrong? Answers on a postcard.
Rossi didn’t give a toss, however, and cruised to win by 20 seconds over JoNew. Behind the Rahal/Dixon melodrama, RHR coasted to 5th with Pagenaud 6th. Willy P, Taku, Hinch and Felix rounded the ten.
By winning the 200th race for Michael Andretti, Rossi moves into second in the championship on 138 points. JoNew still leads on 166 with Dixie just behind Rossi on 133. Then there’s a gap back to Taku on 116, RHR on 96 and then Hinch, Willy P both have 93. Sebastien Bourdais on 91, Rahal on 90 and Colton on 88 round out the top ten.
The championship now turns it attention to the month of May. First up, the useless Indy GP.