Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Inside the strategy that won and lost the IndyCar race at Long Beach

The Grand Prix of Long Beach showcased a fierce strategic battle of two separate two-stop strategies, with six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon making an extended stint work to capture his 57th victory.

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda takes the checkered flag

Photo by: Jake Galstad / Motorsport Images

The second points-paying round of the 2024 season saw 85 laps run around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit, with an early caution – the only one of the day – proving to be the pivotal moment that altered strategies.

When the yellow flag came out on lap 15, it split the field in half with how to attack the remainder of the race.

For Dixon, who started eighth on a set of harder primary tires, dove to pit lane on lap 17 and made the switch to the softer alternate rubber on his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. 

When Dixon passed Team Penske’s Will Power – who relinquished the race lead during the caution to also pit and move on the same strategy – seven laps later, Dixon cycled into the lead among the group.

Mike Hull, CGR’s managing director who also serves as Dixon’s race strategist, knew what the target was from there.

“We knew that we had to get to lap 51 to get to the end,” Hull told Motorsport.com.

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

“Some people chose the strategy that we did. We weren't the only people that did. Those first 15 or 16 cars, they were kind of split in half. We chose the strategy we chose knowing what fuel mileage we had to get, but we also assumed there was going to be some yellow to help us, which there really wasn't much today.”

Dixon vaulted to the overall race lead between laps 33-50 when Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Andretti Global’s Colton Herta – the top two of the strategy to stop 13-15 laps after the caution – pitted. He reassumed the top spot on lap 62 for the final push to the end, in which he was forced to conserve fuel while fending off the furious charge of Newgarden and Herta, who closed on Dixon’s rear wing after the deficit that was over 5s after pitting on laps 58 and 61, respectively.

Although victory looked unlikely given the pace of his pursuits, Dixon’s run to the win was aided when Herta bumped into the back of Newgarden in Turn 11 on lap 77. The contact between those two created enough space on-track while Dixon navigated back marker traffic and eventually, the win by 0.9798s over Herta.

“It worked out and Scott did what he had to do,” Hull said. “The most amazing thing about Scott Dixon really is that he can run fast laps and understands how to modulate the throttle in order to get the mileage he needs to get. He looks at it as an average, so if he's making sure that he can run a fast lap, he gives up the fuel, but the next lap he works hard to economize the effort to make that happen without losing a lot of time on the racetrack. Someday people will look back at Scott Dixon and realize how special he is.”

Rob Edwards, the Chief Operating Officer of Andretti Global and race strategist for Herta, already had a plan in place that wasn’t going to be deviated from.

Colton Herta, Andretti Global w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda pit stop

Colton Herta, Andretti Global w/ Curb-Agajanian Honda pit stop

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

“In the pre-race, we had a go/no-go lap for making the early stop or not,” Edwards told Motorsport.com.

“The yellow came before that lap, so we decided we were going to stick with the plan. I mean, I think probably if the No. 2 (Josef Newgarden) had come, we'd have come as well, but we stuck with the plan as they did.

“Ultimately, anyone other than Scott wasn't going to pull that off. I'm happy with the decisions we made. As I say, you never know, right? You (try to) crystal ball when yellows come and so on. But yeah, happy with the outcome.”

When asked if there where any distinct differences between the primary and alternates – which Dixon, Herta and Newgarden were equipped with a used set for the final stint to the end – that dictated the fuel strategy, Edwards dismissed the idea.

“Not on the fuel strategy,” Edwards said.

“We were concerned on the alternates, starting the race on them. We felt that once we got some rubber down, then the alternate was probably going to be the preferred tire. That's obviously how we played it out.

“There's a lot of talk about tires this weekend. I think probably the fact that today was a little warmer, some of the concerns about tires coming up to temperature and up to speed were less than they would've been. But for us, having made the decision to start on the primes, the plan for the rest of the race was pretty clear for us.”

Dixon 'never gives up'

For Hull, he took a moment to reflect back at the performance Dixon displayed today, noting characteristics that epitomizes his entire career.

“He never gives up,” Hull said. “He understands what he has to do. He understands the strengths and weaknesses of his race car. He understands strategy almost from a global perspective as opposed to a landscape perspective. He is part of the team.

“It's almost like he's with us when we're calling the race and that's what makes him so special is he still to this day, takes the time to re-craft himself every time we go racing.”

Be part of the Autosport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Herta admits he “misjudged” Newgarden IndyCar clash at Long Beach
Next article Was Long Beach really Scott Dixon’s greatest IndyCar drive yet?

Top Comments

There are no comments at the moment. Would you like to write one?

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Autosport Plus

Discover premium content
Subscribe