Tuesday, April 18, 2023

INDYCAR: Canapino’s re-entry drops Dixon to last at Long Beach


by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

Scott Dixon finished last for the 7th time in his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday's Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach when his #9 PNC Bank Honda retired with crash damage after completing 37 of the race’s 85 laps.

The finish came in Dixon’s 332nd career start and was his first since the first Detroit race in 2019, 62 races ago. In IndyCar Series history, it was the 201st due to a crash, the 214th for Honda and the ninth for the #9.

After coming to the IndyCar Series in 2003 after two years in CART, Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing have been the class of the series. The New Zealand driver has won 15% of the races he has started and claimed the championship during his first year in IndyCar. He backed it up with another title in 2008, followed by more in 2013, 2015, 2018 and 2020. After longtime sponsor Target left IndyCar at the end of 2016, Dixon stayed in the #9 machine and picked up backing from current series sponsor NTT Data in 2017 before running PNC Bank colors in 2018, a partnership that continues to this day. 

Dixon comes off a 2022 season that saw him finish third in the championship. Wins at Nashville and Toronto were overshadowed by a performance at Indianapolis where Dixon sat on the pole and led 95 of the race’s 200 laps only to be hit with a pit road speeding penalty on the final round of stops, relegating him to 21st.

Dixon kicked off the 2023 season by surviving a chaotic St. Petersburg race to finish on the bottom step of the podium. He followed that up with a quiet but consistent run at Texas, running in the top five all day and finishing fifth. Pato O’Ward briefly lapped Dixon, but a late caution allowed a handful of cars to finish on the lead lap when the race ended.

At Long Beach, Dixon picked up right where he left off, placing second to O’Ward in first practice. While Dixon fell to seventh in second practice, he remained within a quarter-second of the lead, setting the stage for a tight qualifying battle. After Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing struggled last weekend, it was A.J. Foyt Racing’s turn this week, with Benjamin Pedersen and Santino Ferrucci sitting at the bottom of the charts after first practice. Pedersen again was slowest of all cars that made an at-pace lap in second practice, while Ferrucci moved up to a meager 23rd.

In qualifying, Dixon was second in his group for the first round, outpacing O’Ward but falling to CGR teammate Alex Palou. In the second round, Ganassi put three of its cars through to the Fast Six, but they were in positions four, five and six. Dixon's was the last of the three to make it through, edging Colton Herta by a mere .07 seconds to advance to the final round. While he remained the slowest of the three CGR cars in the final round of qualifying, Dixon moved past O’Ward and secured the fifth starting spot for the race.

While he was 20th in first practice, Conor Daly slipped to 25th in second practice and was slowest in Group 2 for qualifying. Since Group 2 had 14 cars versus 13 in Group 1, Daly started last. This came despite the fact that David Malukas did not set a time in Group 1.

At the start of the race, Dixon was shuffled back to seventh place from his fifth-place starting spot. This was the result of several trailing cars accelerating right out of the final hairpin to catch up to the front of the grid, giving them an advantage at the green flag. Dixon was noticeably upset on the radio, but any negative momentum was almost immediately negated.

Helio Castroneves, who started in the 16th spot, ran over a curb on the inside of the first turn and spun his car, nosing it into the outside wall of Turn 2. He stalled the car with the nosecone and front wing folded up on the main body of the car. After the safety team got the #06 refired without losing a lap, the team immediately pitted at the mandate of IndyCar to replace the damaged front wing. While a replacement did the trick, the team lost a lap, leaving them the only car not on the lead lap for the foreseeable future.

Callum Ilott entered the last-place picture on Lap 6. After a disappointing qualifying effort left the young Briton 22nd on the grid, he pitted during the opening caution and was running 25th on Lap 5, when he brushed the wall early in the lap and then shredded the right-front tire as a result. He was able to limp his #77 back to pit road without incident. The resulting pit stop put Ilott a lap down, but he remained ahead of Castroneves until the next caution.

Dixon drew next caution after a controversial move. O’Ward caught him on Lap 19 and began to battle for the sixth spot. Heading into a hard right-hand turn, O’Ward made an inside dive to overtake. Dixon turned down into the corner and knocked front wheels with O’Ward. The resulting contact sent the #9 into the tire barriers, although no other cars were involved.

Dixon refired and got away from the scene without losing a lap and slotted in 24th after pit stops. On the ensuing restart, the field saw a new leader – Augustin Canapino. The rookie pilot for Juncos Hollinger Racing stayed out to go off-sequence and became the first Argentine driver to lead a lap in IndyCar competition. However, mere corners into defending his lead, Ilott came out of the pits directly in front of his teammate. Instead of seeing clean track ahead, Canapino now had a car ahead, dirty air, and old tires.

While Canapino maintained the lead for one green-flag lap, he was down to fifth at the conclusion of the following lap after making contact with Castroneves. Castroneves lined up immediately behind Canapino on the restart, as he did not pit and remained one lap down. Castroneves was attempting to overtake Canapino when the two made contact, sending the #78 into the wall and breaking its front suspension. Canapino made it to the pits the lap after and was interviewed by the broadcast a handful of laps after that. Everything seemed to imply that the race was over for him, except that the broadcast ticker continually noted him as “in pit.”

Dixon came out charging after the restart, picking up three positions in the first three laps. He settled into 21st position and was working on Simon Pagenaud on Lap 38 when he quietly hit pit lane. Soon thereafter, the broadcast listed Dixon as “out,” and in a later interview, Dixon noted that he had lost forward drive. Ganassi’s Twitter account said that the #9 was out because of damage sustained in the run-in with O’Ward.

The last-place battle seemed to be set until about Lap 55, when Canapino returned to the racetrack. Within a dozen laps, he overtook Dixon, the final time last place traded hands. Canapino also overtook Rinus VeeKay, who fell victim to a mechanical issue and only completed 48 laps. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Pedersen and Daly, the latter with a lackluster finish to his 100th career IndyCar start.

*Dixon now owns seven of the nine last-place finishes for the #9. The other two are from Davey Hamilton (1999) and Jeff Ward (2002).
*2023 has seen last-place finishers from Denmark, Japan and New Zealand. It is the first time since 2018 that an American hasn’t finished last in the first three races, when Matheus Leist, Pietro Fittipaldi and Simon Pagenaud were the first three out.

27) #9-Scott Dixon / 37 laps / crash damage
26) #21-Rinus VeeKay / 48 laps / mechanical
25) #78-Augustin Canapino / 52 laps / running
24) #55-Benjamin Pedersen / 82 laps / running
23) #20-Conor Daly / 83 laps / running

1st) Chip Ganassi Racing (2)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing (2)

1st) Honda (2)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


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