ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Entering Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix, Scott Dixon had never led a lap in three prior Verizon IndyCar Series starts at the picturesque 4.014-mile Wisconsin road course.
Not only did Dixon change that statistic by the day’s end, he lived up to his ‘Iceman’ nickname, holding off a hard-charging Josef Newgarden for his first win of the season.
Dixon took the lead from Newgarden for the first time on a lap 31 restart, then survived a seven-lap sprint to the finish after a late-race caution to notch the victory by .5779 of a second at the twin checkers.
The win was the 41st of Dixon’s storied Indy car career, moving him to within one of Michael Andretti (42) for third on the all-time list.
“That (win) was about a lot of strategy and having the right tires at the right time, so I give a lot of credit to the team,” Dixon said in victory lane. “This is not a track that should be suited to us (as a team), but everything went well today.”
“Josef made it easy for me (on the restart) … he was on black tires and gave me plenty of room, which I’m definitely thankful for. That was when we won the race; I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be that same scenario on the last restart. We had a good punch out of the last corner and our Honda power took us across the line first.”
Polesitter Helio Castroneves dominated the opening stint of the race, leading the first 12 laps as a three-stop strategy unfolded among the frontrunners.
However, Newgarden was able to push his fuel mileage a lap longer on the early stint, leading for two circuits before Castroneves used hot tires and a dive through Turn 3 to reclaim the point and chase his first win in three years.
But Newgarden had pace, not to be denied as the race approached halfway. He got a run on Castroneves coming down the frontstretch to start lap 20, rolling the outside of Turn 1 to pass Castroneves back and drive out to a three-second margin before his second pit stop right at the halfway point.
Moments later was when the game changed, as the day’s first caution flag flew on the 29th round when Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato lost his Honda at the ‘Kink’ and caught some air in the grass before coasting to a halt.
That pinned Newgarden on the black-sidewall primary tires for a lap 31 restart, while second-running Dixon had more grip on the red-sidewall alternates and was able to power past on the outside of Turn 1, using Newgarden’s own move against him to seize control ahead of the day’s final round of stops.
Dixon pitted for the final time coming to 13 laps to go, ceding the point to Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball for two rounds before retaking the lead for good.
Although a hard shunt by Tony Kanaan at Turn 11 set up the day’s final restart and afforded Newgarden with seven laps to try and pounce, Dixon got away just far enough on the green flag that Newgarden could not get back to him.
“You can’t predict that stuff,” Newgarden said of his unlucky break at the first caution to be hung out on black tires. “I think our strategy was spot-on. We were doing what we needed to do to stay out front all day … and you just can’t predict those yellows, man. Sometimes they fall your way and sometimes they don’t. Today they didn’t fall our way.”
“Dixon did a great job. They deserved to win with the job they did, but I felt good about what we had (as a team) with four strong cars all weekend with Team Penske. It stings a little bit that we didn’t get the win, but it was fun driving this car. Just disappointed we couldn’t get it done.”
Castroneves completed the podium in third, his 13th top-three finish since his last win at Belle Isle in 2014, after leading 17 laps.
Simon Pagenaud and Will Power completed the Penske freight train, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.
The Hondas of Kimball, Ed Jones, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and Mikhail Aleshin made up the balance of the top 10.
The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to action July 9 at Iowa Speedway, for the Iowa Corn 300. Newgarden is the defending event winner.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…