Chip Ganassi Racing’s Mike Hull and Scott Dixon used a second-place start as a launchpad to success — and a dual-strategy as the tactic to ensure it — in the first race of this year’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit weekend.
Unlike fifth-place starter Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dixon opted to execute a two-stop strategy, allowing him to run hard and not worry about overusing fuel or tires aboard his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
Marco Andretti started from the pole and, as he led the first 22 laps of the 70-lap contest, seemed to lack the pace to keep Dixon and other fellow frontrunners at bay. After visiting pit lane for his first time at the end of Lap 22, Andretti never returned to the lead.
Instead, Graham Rahal and Hunter-Reay took opportunities as all the two- and three-stop strategies played out to lead two and seven laps, respectively. Dixon was the only other driver to contribute to the lead-change number of six as he overtook Andretti to lead the most laps at 39, good for 91.65 miles spent at the front.
Dixon and Hunter-Reay surfaced as the major contenders for the win as the race was interrupted twice for major crashes on Laps 47 and 56.
As the only driver to start on Firestone’s black-sidewalled primary offering, Rahal was the quickest driver lapping the 2.35-mile Raceway at Belle Isle Park during a point in the middle of the race but threw away a potential strong finish when a mistake through Turn 14 led to heavy contact with the concrete wall at the exit of the corner.
Less than 10 laps after Rahal destroyed his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing-entered Honda, Santino Ferrucci was sent for a wild ride through Turn 7. As he set up for the turn at the end of the long run from Turn 6 along the Detroit River, Ferrucci was clipped from behind by Carlin’s Charlie Kimball, turning the Formula 2 driver sideways and giving him no chance to reduce his speed by braking.
Ferrucci slid at full-speed between his competitors, violently going over the curb at the inside of the corner and smashing into the tire barrier, necessitating a repair period under caution before the duel between Dixon and Hunter-Reay was free to get back underway.
With another four laps lost to caution after Ferrucci’s Verizon IndyCar Series debut came to a severe, premature end, the green flag flew once again on Lap 60.
Hunter-Reay stayed relatively close to Dixon’s gearbox during the final 10 revolutions of the temporary street circuit but was unable to make a pass, due in part to the challenge of dealing with the dirty air left behind by Dixon’s car.
Dixon ultimately took the checkered flag first, keeping Hunter-Reay behind by 1.8249 seconds at the conclusion of 70 laps.
Having finally led his first laps of 2018, Dixon also secured his first victory of the season and only his second on Belle Isle, with his first coming back in 2012.
The triumph also set an Indy car racing record as Dixon has now won at least one race in each of the last 14 consecutive seasons. The Kiwi has also found victory circle in 16 total different years.
Dixon is now tied for third on the all-time win list with Michael Andretti — ironically, the owner of the cars driven by his closest competitors in his 42nd Indy car race win.
Alexander Rossi rounded out the podium behind Dixon and Hunter-Reay, just over four seconds back at the checkers. Andretti’s start from pole translated into a fourth-place finish, secured when he finished 0.3566 seconds ahead of Takuma Sato who completed the top five.
Ed Jones came home with a quiet sixth ahead of Will Power, Robert Wickens, Josef Newgarden and Spencer Pigot in comprising the remainder of the top 10, which included seven Hondas and only three Chevrolets.
Rossi moves into the points lead entering Sunday’s Race 2 with four more points than race winner Dixon. Indianapolis 500 victor Power dropped from the championship lead to third. The top nine drivers, down to Saturday pole sitter Andretti, are within 100 points leading into the eighth round of the year.
The grid will be set for Race 2 at 10:45 a.m. EDT Saturday with two groups taking to the track separately and the fastest overall driver earning the pole. The second 70-lap race will complete the “Dual in Detroit” at 3:50 p.m., with ABC’s live coverage beginning 20 minutes earlier.