until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


IndyCar's craziest race of 2024 so far explained

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Ganassi’s Scott Dixon took his second win of the year and the IndyCar Series points lead in a frankly ridiculous Detroit street race that featured eight caution stoppages and rain shaking up the order.

At times it felt like we’d never finish the race - 47 of 100 laps were under caution, such was the propensity of incidents at Turn 3, the first corner after the restart here - but another fuel gamble from Dixon allowed him to leap to the front, albeit under late pressure (in different ways) from a pair of intervening Andretti drivers in Colton Herta and Marcus Ericsson.

Rain around the lap 33 mark gave drivers a decision to make and 18 pitted for wet tyres as it went yellow, but by the time the race went green the track was dry and those drivers had to pit again for dry tyres.

That, plus the number of cautions, meant a mixed-up order. A total of 12 penalties were also  dished out, amid six different leaders and a wild finale.

How did Dixon win?

Dixon started fifth and on the preferable hard tyre, and avoided taking the gamble of wet tyres - which had been made even more tempting by a caution brought about by Scott McLaughlin crashing at Turn 1.

While in second with 43 laps to go, Dixon elected to pit, effectively gambling that there would be more cautions because that was too early to make it on fuel otherwise. And there were, allowing him to cycle to the lead when Kyle Kirkwood came in nine laps later.

The only downside for Dixon was that the last stint was still long on fuel and a fired-up Kirkwood had 10 laps or so more fuel to burn in giving chase.

But Dixon's team-mate Marcus Armstrong in second - perfectly showing how wild this race was as he was caught up in an incident on lap 53 but 13 laps later he was in the top three - did a great job of backing Kirkwood up, giving Dixon a two-second lead combined with a team-mate buffer so Dixon could save fuel.

But within 10 laps Kirkwood wasn’t the Andretti driver to watch anymore as an inspired Ericsson made it to third and pushed Armstrong towards Dixon, while he was stuck behind Herta who was about to go a lap down by this stage - despite having started the race on pole.

With five laps to go, Dixon sent one down the inside at Turn 3 and by Turn 5 Herta bailed out and sportingly gave the leader the track position, a move which sealed the win for Dixon.

It’s Dixon’s 58th win and another done with fuel saving, just as his admittedly more spectacular Long Beach victory was.

With two laps to go Ericsson passed Armstrong at Turn 3 and dropped the gap to Dixon to 0.8567s for his best result since joining Andretti, joined by his team-mates from Ganassi last year on the podium.

Armstrong bagged the best result of his IndyCar career in his first full season, despite running out of fuel as he crossed the line, while Kirkwood took fourth ahead of McLaren’s Alexander Rossi who also had a crazy race filled with incidents.

Disaster for the points leader and the Indy 500 winner

Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden spun from fifth on a restart with 29 laps to go, collecting erstwhile points leader Alex Palou.

Newgarden had been one of the drivers to risk the wets, and then got a drive-through penalty for running over his wheel gun in the pits. When he crashed out he was fifth and on Dixon’s strategy, so theoretically would have stayed there in the week he won the Indy 500 and announced a Penske contract extension.

Last year’s Detroit winner Palou started second on a used set of softs - presumably anticipating that the soft tyre would be the best and that he could save his one fresh set for the end of the race - but he was in for a rude awakening when he went from second to the back end of the top 10 in just two laps and had to pit very early on lap 12.

Furthermore, IndyCar rules dictate you must use a fresh set of soft and hard tyres, so starting on a used set meant Palou had to use softs again.

He took those on lap 12 and then pitted under caution from 21st on lap 16, completing his obligation to use the softs where many of the leading drivers still needed to.

When the rain came he pitted, but was still back in the top six by staying out of trouble and making some clever overtakes, when he was collected in Newgarden’s incident as the latter tried to avoid hitting Kirkwood but still did a slow spin himself.

Palou finished 16th and Newgarden was 26th after pitting with what looked like an engine issue late on.

Newgarden has four results outside of the top 15 in six races. For Palou, his 16th is his worst result since his 18th at the Indy road course in May 2022, over two years ago! His last result outside of the top 10 was Portland in August 2022.  

Where was the polesitter in all of this?

Herta had been in control of the early running on the preferable hard tyre, but when the rain came, he and strategist Rob Edwards made a joint call to pit.

There were a considerable number of caution laps and the track was basically dry by the time the race went green and like the other 17 drivers to gamble, Herta had to switch back.

Then he locked up entering Turn 5 and smashed into the run-off zone, edging Dale Coyne’s IndyCar returnee Tristan Vautier off with him.

Herta finished in 19th, one spot ahead of McLaughlin who was given a penalty during his comeback for hitting Sting Ray Robb.

Lundgaard’s lost win

There was a real chance that Christian Lundgaard would have won this race.

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver started 11th but was in the top five in the first few laps and took the lead after the rain as he urged his team to back his gamble to stay out.

Because he’d started on the soft tyre he did need to pit shortly after that for fuel and tyres, but his fightback came undone when he crashed into Romain Grosjean at Turn 3 on lap 57 and was penalised for it.

He was basically beached on top of Grosjean’s car but managed to reverse off.

But then, after passing Rossi with four laps to go, Lundgaard dropped to 11th when he had to make a lap 99 pitstop for a splash of fuel - having run low to the confusion of his team.

Grosjean asked why he was even continuing in the race after the Lundgaard incident, saying “the championship is over for me”. Soon after, he was given a drive-through penalty for servicing in a closed pit

The driver with at least five penalties

Will Power had a day!

His penalties:

Emergency Service in Closed Pit
Failed to pack up under caution - loss of 3 track positions
Avoidable Contact
Full service in closed pit

And those were the ones we were able to count…

He started eighth but dropped to the back on the first lap - caught up in a multi-car incident.

He was furious with being penalised for contact with Rinus VeeKay, but was seemingly able to refocus and keep his championship hopes alive with sixth.

Pato O’Ward was also in that first lap incident and bounced back to seventh, while Felix Rosenqvist in eighth was also sent to the back at the start with a puncture and rebounded to another top 10. His only race outside of that so far this year was when his engine failed at the Indy 500 last week.

Santino Ferrucci was in the wars all weekend and was pinged for hitting Helio Castroneves early on. He bounced back to ninth ahead of Theo Pourchaire.

The McLaren driver was penalised for hitting the very impressive Agustin Canapino but scored his best IndyCar result in his fourth race.

It's fair to say the second year on this new Detroit street circuit will produce differing opinions from fans on if it was a good race or not. The 1.645-mile track only has nine corners and it's so narrow and short that drama is almost guaranteed.

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