Defending Indycar champion Scott Dixon has made a strong start to the new season with a second placing in the opening race in St Petersburg, Florida.

Dixon started from fourth but finished less than three seconds behind winner Josef Newgarden who earned the 11th win of his career. Pole sitter Will Power finished third in a relatively incident-free start to the season.

It is the Kiwi's 103rd career podium and equals his best result at the Florida track.

It was thirsty work for Dixon who admitted after the drive that his drink bottle wasn't working for the entire race.

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"It was pretty physical with no fluids," Dixon told the host broadcaster after the race.

"A big points weekend for us. Hopefully we can carry momentum. I still want to win at this place. Huge credit to Josef. He drove a hell of a race".

Dixon but was stymied by lapped traffic in his bid to catch Newgarden.

"You know the lapped traffic is trying to stay on the lead lap," Dixon said. "I thought we had a run on Josef, but once we caught the traffic it wasn't enough."

Dixon's Ganassi teammate rookie Felix Rosenqvist finished second as Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing drivers took out the top four spots.

Alexander Rossi from Andretti Autosport finished fifth, followed by James Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and then Simon Pagenaud, the third driver in the Penske lineup.