Scott Dixon holds off Colton Herta to win Grand Prix of Long Beach

“Drivers, start your engines.”

When the announcement echoed over the loudspeaker Sunday afternoon, a collective roar from tens of thousands of spectators packed into the six portable grandstands along the 1.97-mile, 11-turn street circuit showed the anticipation racing fans felt for the feature event of this weekend’s 49th Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Those cheers sent 27 drivers on their way in Round 2 of the IndyCar Series, and just under two hours and a grueling 85 laps later, Scott Dixon steered his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda under the checkered flag at the finish line on Shoreline Drive to become the latest champion of Southern California’s annual beach party.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we were going to make it,” said Dixon, who jumped seven spots to second in the points race and waved to the crowd as confetti rained down on Victory Lane. “I knew it would be tough. I heard Chip yelling over the radio. You hope for some caution laps toward the end. Huge credit to everyone on the team.”

It was the second Long Beach triumph (the first was in 2015) for the six-time Series champion from New Zealand, who beat an international field that included reigning Long Beach winner Kyle Kirkwood, past Long Beach champions Josef Newgarden (2022), Colton Herta (2021), Alexander Rossi (2018, 2019) and Will Power (2008, 2012), defending Series champion Alex Palou of Spain and Mexican hot shoe Pato O’Ward.

Ganassi marveled at how his driver called upon years of experience to navigate the final stages after making his last pit stop on Lap 61.

“I’m not sure about the most improbable victory, but it was certainly one of the most hard fought,” said Ganassi, whose sports car tandem of Renger van der Zande and Sebastian Bourdais won the IMSA race the day before. “We kept showing the fuel number he had to get. It’s relief more than joy.”

Dixon held off Newgarden, who got bumped in the rear by Herta while decelerating around a hairpin turn with under 10 laps to go, spoiling any chance he had to catch the leader. Instead, it was Herta taking second by 0.9798 seconds and making the podium in third was Palou, also representing Chip Ganassi Racing.

“It seemed pretty obvious that [Herta] misjudged and ran into me,” Newgarden said when asked to comment on the controversy. He had to settle for fourth, representing Team Penske along with Power.

Herta later owned up to his role in the incident: “Ideally you want to exit the corner as straight as possible to get the best run onto the straight … you do that by opening up the entry but it slows down your speed so much that if you’re not doing that every lap it’s tough to gauge how fast he was going to be going there. Ultimately it’s his right to do that. It’s my right to not run into the back of him. I apologized to him. I wouldn’t be happy if it went down that way for me.”

Dixon’s fuel-saving strategy paid off and inched him closer to A.J. Foyt on IndyCar’s all-time wins list with his 57th career victory, making it 20 consecutive years that the 43-year-old has notched at least one victory. Foyt holds the record with 67 IndyCar wins.

The race marked the 40th year of IndyCars at Long Beach. Organizers estimated weekend attendance at 194,000, which would be a record for the modern era of the IndyCar Series (after its merger with Champ Car in 2008). Dixon praised the palm tree-lined venue for its longevity, history and fan support.

“This one ranks high on the stress meter, but what we all enjoy about this event is the incredible atmosphere,” said Dixon, who won three of the last four Series races last year.

Behind the wheel of the No. 60 Honda for Meyer Shank Racing, 32-year-old Swede Felix Rosenqvist had the fastest lap during Saturday’s Fast Six qualifying session to edge Power for Sunday’s pole position by a mere four thousandths of a second. Named Rookie of the Year for the IndyCar Series in 2019, Rosenqvist got passed on the second lap and wound up ninth.

“I just couldn’t attack the turns like I wanted,” Rosenqvist said. “It’s frustrating to lose spots. I’m bummed, but we’ll learn from this.”

Power, a 41-year-old from Australia, was vying for his first win since the 2022 Detroit Grand Prix. He has a record 70 Series poles and picked up his first IndyCar victory in 2008 here in Long Beach, the longest-running major street race in North America.

Newgarden, the pole earner and race winner at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10, won in Long Beach two years ago and started in the second row Sunday alongside the 24-year-old Herta, a Santa Clarita native.

“Once Scott took [the lead] I was like, ‘He’s going to make it work,’ ” Palou said. “It’s super tough if you know the numbers he has to get and what he has to do driving-wise. Probably he’s cheating and has an extra fuel cell that I don’t know yet! I’m joking, obviously.”

The 25-year-old Kirkwood, who earned the pole and led for 53 laps on his way to winning last year’s race, failed to qualify for the Fast Six, started in 10th position Sunday and finished seventh. Race No. 3 of 17 on the IndyCar schedule is next Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

“We’ll take the points and move on to Barber,” Kirkwood said. “We didn’t start where we wanted to. I maybe could’ve moved up one position, but I’m satisfied.”

Race weekend included a Historic Indy Car Challenge celebrating vintage Indy cars from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s; a Lifestyle Expo featuring more than 100 exhibitors; Friday and Saturday night concerts outside the Long Beach Convention Center; 40-minute sprint races involving three classes of GT America cars; a Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame ceremony; and a Super Trucks Race.

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