Rossi wins, Newgarden crashes at Watkins Glen
3 September 2017 – Alexander Rossi won his second career IndyCar race on Sunday, coolly holding off a charging Scott Dixon despite having to go off-sequence midway through the race.
At the time it was a move that seemingly derailed his chances for a win, but a timely caution from an Andretti Autosport team-mate meant that Rossi made it back to the lead with just one stop to go. In order to make it work and become the 10th different race winner this season, though, he had to hold off a four-time IndyCar champion.
Dixon's chase and eventual second-place were not fruitless, however. The significant haul of points came at a race where current championship leader Josef Newgarden made a crucial error on pit-exit and wound up P18.
At the start, things looked very different for the Penske driver.
Officially declared a wet race, the rain showers had departed prior to the green flag, meaning the field had to start on wet tyres on a drying track. Amazingly, the field made it through the first few turns relatively unscathed.
Newgarden dive-bombed pole-sitter Rossi at Turn 1 but was not able to get off the corner as quick. The lap would prove more to be a race to the pits than anything, as the entire field came in for dry tyres.
On the exit, the damp patches of the circuit proved tricky for the tyres, most notably for Rossi as he lost the lead to Castroneves on the second lap. The Brazilian quickly built himself a two-second lead, desperately needing a solid finish to keep his championship aspirations alive into the final race.
Meanwhile, Takuma Sato suffered engine problems and fell to last while Spencer Pigot spun in Turn 9.
Hinchcliffe was the next driver to have some difficulty, stopping on track on lap five to bring out the first caution of the race. The Holmatro Safety Team duly came out to give him a tow back to pit lane, but his gearbox issue proved to be terminal.
On a still-damp restart, Dixon shot past Newgarden to take third away before trying to give chase to Rossi. The gaps stabilised, however, before the next caution came out – caused on lap 15 by Sato coming to a stop in Turn 6.
This gave most of the field an opportunity to pit for a normal servicing where Rossi thought he could jump back to the front, but a lightning stop from Castroneves kept the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner at bay. The Brazilian and the rest of his Penske team-mates opted for black tyres while Rossi went with reds, flanked behind by his Andretti Autosport team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had gained three spots on the stop.
Rossi and Hunter-Reay would both pass Castroneves on the restart, and soon Rossi would inherit the lead on pit stops on lap 23.
However, moments before, his Andretti crew discovered that during his last stop he did not get proper fuel delivery from the hose. His crew changed the pressurised rig but had to bring him in on lap 24 for a lengthy 12-second stop to ensure he had enough petrol to stay in the race.
This may have ended Rossi's chances were it not for a fortunate yellow when his team-mate Sato spun again in Turn 7. Hunter-Reay and most of the field came in to pit, but staying out put Rossi back to the front.
Back under green, that ensuing stint proved crucial for Dixon's race as the New Zealander slowly picked off cars and put himself into third place, closing even more and jumping into second after the final round of pit stops.
Chaos ensued with 15 to go involving the championship leader when a handful of cars came in for their final stops. Racing Power out of the pits, Newgarden understeered hard into the outer pit wall before crossing back into the path of a sliding Sébastien Bourdias. The Frenchman rear-ended the Penske, lifting it in the air, before coming to rest nearby.
Newgarden limped back around the course for repairs, but a lengthy second stop ensured that Dixon would gain a huge chunk of points on the American, slicing his championship lead tenfold down to just three.
The field restarted with just 11 laps to go ensuring a straight fight between Rossi and Dixon, and the two did not disappoint. Each driver set and reset fastest-lap during their chase, establishing a five-second gap over the rest of the field before eventually crossing the line less than a second apart.
Hunter-Reay capped off the podium six seconds adrift, leading Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Power. Charlie Kimball, who had on a few occasions taken trips through the grass or into the barriers, limped home in seventh ahead of Chilton, Simon Pagenaud and Carlos Muñoz.
For Rossi, the win marks his first road course victory in IndyCar, wrought from his first career pole position that he captured yesterday. It also doubles his career win total after his improbable victory in the 2016 Indy 500.
For Dixon, it nearly places him on equal footing with Newgarden heading into the season finale, marking the 12th straight year the championship will be decided at the last race.
The Verizon IndyCar Series season concludes in two weeks' time at Sonoma Raceway