DETROIT (AP) — Scott Dixon just wanted to enjoy his first victory of the year and hail crews that patched up problems on a shoddy surface.
Dixon won IndyCar’s Detroit Grand Prix that was marred by poor track conditions that stopped the race for a little more than 2 hours on Sunday, leading the lackluster race from start to finish.
“We have to focus on the positives,” he said.
That’s easier to do of course when you win.
A red flag halted the event 45 laps into a race that was scheduled for 90 laps and shortened to 60.
“I’d like to give a lot of credit to everyone at IndyCar and the Detroit staff for getting the track back in shape so we could race,” Dixon said. “The final 15 lap shootout was exciting for me.”
It might’ve been for James Hinchcliffe, too, if he wasn’t the first driver to run into a major problem with the track.
Belle Isle’s 2.07-mile road course that hadn’t hosted a race since 2008 had chunks of asphalt and concrete missing. Pot holes and grooves that were recently filled with synthetic rubber became exposed. Crews filled the gaps with epoxy that settled enough for the race to resume after a delay that drained once-filled grandstands.
The first sign of trouble was obvious when Hinchcliffe lost control because he ran through a huge divot in the road and slammed into a tire barrier when he was on lap 39. Hinchcliffe, who had finished among the first six in the previous five races this year, shook his head when he got out of his car and took a look at the track under the first yellow flag.
“I have never seen anything like it,” he said after a 21st-place finish. “We had these big pieces of tar just sort of ripping up from Lap 5. The debris was out there. It was tough to drive around it.
“The lap before the accident I had this chunk hit me in the wing.”
The sprint to the finish was stunted by a caution flag because light rain made a slick track even more slippery.
“The track looked like glass,” Dixon said. “I just backed it down on the restart before something bad happened.”
Helio Castroneves wish he would’ve done the same, but he spun out as if his car was on a skating rink and finished 17th.
“It’s a shame the way we ended up,” he said.
Dixon pulled away after the final restart on lap 55 for his first win of the season, almost 2 seconds in front of teammate Dario Franchitti. The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion made many moves, mostly on restarts, in limited time after starting 14th in the 25-car field to move into contention, but couldn’t catch Dixon.
“I tried to get Dixie, but he’s been a different class all weekend,” Franchitti said. “He’s a wild little fox, made some great moves. Those last laps, that’s the hardest I’ve ever seen somebody drive a car.”
Rookie Simon Pagenaud finished third, followed by IndyCar points leader Will Power, Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.
Dixon, a two-time series champion and 28-time winner, earned his first pole on Saturday. He took advantage of starting first on a track that doesn’t give many opportunities to pass and led from start to finish after finishing second last week for the third time this year.
“It’s a nice way to come back,” he said.
The series that is trying to make a comeback to become more relevant was hoping to build off momentum created by an entertaining Indy 500 last week that had a track-record 34 lead changes and drew a TV audience that almost matched NASCAR’s TV rating later on the same day. But drama off the track and a poor performance on it didn’t seem to help.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard confirmed swirling speculation about discord that included a post on his Twitter account two days after the sport’s signature event that indicated a team owner was trying to get him fired.
Bernard wanted the story Sunday to be about the race in the Motor City.
That didn’t turn out to be good news, either.
Dixon wasn’t challenged much before the red flag, building a 10-second lead, on a tight road course that had just nine lead changes combined in 2007 and 2008.
Detroit Grand Prix officials couldn’t wait to show off the Motor City and one of its gems, Belle Isle, this weekend. Everything seemed to going perfectly until the course couldn’t withstand the pressure created by high-performance cars in the middle of the race.