IndyCar packed every bit of its delayed season-opening event into one long, hot day in Texas without any fans in the stands. Scott Dixon was the fastest for most of it at a place he knows well.
Dixon, a five-time IndyCar champion, took the chequered flag yesterday in a dominating display, for his fourth win at the Texas Motor Speedway, where drivers had also practised and qualified earlier in the day. The 39-year-old New Zealander raced to his 47th career victory and matched AJ Foyt's record of 18 seasons with a win.
"It was such a team effort," said Dixon, third on the career wins list behind Foyt's 67 and Mario Andretti's 52. "It's just so fast. Any situation we were in, we could just go for it."
After a restart with three laps left following a caution when young teammate Felix Rosenqvist crashed, Dixon sped away in the No 9 Chip Ganassi Honda for a 4.4s victory over Simon Pagenaud. Defending IndyCar champion and polesitter Josef Newgarden finished third behind Pagenaud, his teammate at Team Penske.
Nearly three months after the start of the season was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, IndyCar finally got on the track for what would usually be the midpoint race of its season.
Drivers and team members went through health screenings when they got to Texas Motor Speedway.
Many had already gone through similar screenings to get on chartered planes they boarded at dawn in Indianapolis — they were returning home after the race.
Crew members were required to wear face masks, and there was plenty of room for social distancing in the garage areas.
The massive grandstands that can seat more than 100,000 people were empty, and not because of extreme heat during the race. No spectators were allowed, as will also be the case for the next race on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4.
"It's rotten that the fans aren't here. I wish everybody was here to celebrate," said Dixon, who extended his own record to 16 seasons in a row with a victory.
Dixon had the top speed during the two-hour practice session, and qualified second to start on the front row alongside Newgarden.
He led for a stunning 157 of the 200 laps, and had an earlier 6s lead over Newgarden wiped out by a caution for debris.
The race ended in drama with Dixon's main rival for the win, Rosenqvist, crashing out with just 10 laps to go as he tried to chase down the Kiwi.
What looked like a potential grandstand finish ended with relief for the five-time series champion.
Dixon went on to win the IndyCar title each of the three previous times he won the race at Texas.