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IndyCar Detroit

How Herta’s Detroit "Hail Mary" almost derailed Dixon’s IndyCar victory

The fuel-saving mastery that netted Scott Dixon victory in a chaos-filled Detroit Grand Prix was nearly thrown off late on by a belligerent Colton Herta.

When one of the eight cautions of the day flew on lap 53, Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was called in to make his final pitstop three laps later.

The gamble to stop so early – with 44 laps remaining – was a calculated one, as cautions were the theme of the race on the demanding 1.645-mile, nine-turn temporary street circuit.

Of the 47 total laps run under caution, 14 of those happened after Dixon made his last stop, with the New Zealander cycling through to the lead on lap 66 as other frontrunners pitted under the last yellows of the day.

But with the gap to the rest of the field to manage - namely to four-stopping team-mate Marcus Armstrong, who was one of the drivers to switch to wets following a short rain shower - Dixon's lead was far from safe.

Polesitter Herta was also a factor but for the wrong reasons. He had fallen a lap down and found himself in the midst of the leading battle, attempting to gain his lap back by overtaking Dixon.

Herta succeeded but wasn’t able to break away from the leader and instead sat in front, which drew the likes of Armstrong and Herta's Andretti Global team-mate Marcus Ericsson closer as the laps ticked down.

Armstrong closed what was once a three-second gap to just a couple of car lengths with six laps to go before a desperate Dixon, still trying to conserve fuel, made a bold pass on Herta at Turn 3.

Herta dove to pit road for more fuel immediately after, while Ericsson managed to get around Armstrong and closed from 1.8s back from Dixon to less than 0.9s behind at the chequered flag.

“Colton made it definitely more difficult,” Dixon said. “The way that I might save fuel is different to him.

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

“He was getting me very out of sync. You need free and clean air because you want a very positive front [end]. That's why I made the lunge on him. We know he's not going to go to the end. They were throwing a Hail Mary to get their lap back and work it out.

“I had to push on him. The cars from behind were starting to encroach on us. It was a bit frustrating there. I'm obviously watching, on my dash, the gap behind. Marcus was doing a great job getting the number, obviously great speed. When he got kind of within a second, I'm like, ‘We need to go here.’

“It was a little tighter than I thought it was going to be on fuel. I was getting some pretty big numbers, thought it was going to be pretty easy. Maybe our fuel was off a little bit. I got the blue light with two to go, that's not good. But we were totally fine.”

The race marked the second time in 2024 that now-championship leader Dixon pulled off a masterstroke by making fuel mileage, backing up his win at Long Beach in April.

“I think some of it is a little bit of luck,” Dixon admitted. “I think [at] Long Beach, we took an aggressive approach.

“If we were lucky, we would have had some caution. We had to do it the very difficult way of having no caution.

“It kind of played out that way a little bit [in Detroit], but it was tight. A lot of people on our strategy didn't make it.

“I think for us as a team, we just try to cover all bases. I don't think there's a style or a classic way of winning. Honestly, you just take any win you can get.”

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