ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Scott Dixon raced to his third straight victory Saturday with an improbable triumph in the opener of a weekend doubleheader at Road America, as IndyCar welcomed fans to its races for the first time this season.
Dixon took the lead shortly after a caution flag and beat Will Power by 2.5386 seconds. They were followed in order by Alex Palou, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Colton Herta.
Dixon has won each of the three IndyCar races in the pandemic-delayed season. He’s the first IndyCar driver to start a season with at least three consecutive victories since Sebastien Bourdais reeled off four straight to start the 2006 campaign.
The only other drivers to open an IndyCar season with at least three straight victories are A.J. Foyt (seven in 1964) and Al Unser (three in 1971).
This marked the first time spectators were allowed in an IndyCar event this season after they weren’t permitted in races at Fort Worth or Indianapolis. IndyCar is treating each event separately and following local and state health regulations at each track as it decides whether to allow fans.
“It’s so cool to be back on a track with fans,” Dixon said. “And there’s tons of them here today.”′
Saturday’s race took drivers 55 laps around a course that’s just over 4 miles long with 14 turns.
Dixon qualified ninth Saturday for his worst starting position of the young season, as he’d started second in Fort Worth and seventh in Indianapolis. He wasn’t a factor early in this one as Josef Newgarden was in command for the first half of the race.
Newgarden had grabbed the pole position earlier in the day and seemed on his way to winning at Road America for the second time in three years until he stalled coming out of his second pit stop and fell back in the pack. He ended up 14th.
Power owned a narrow lead over Dixon when Jack Harvey went off the track to produce a caution flag with 17 laps remaining. Dixon pulled ahead of Power coming out of the pits on the restart and stayed ahead after two more caution flags.
The second caution flag came when Conor Daly slid off the course after making contact with Pato O’Ward, knocking Daly out of the race and wrecking his Chevy. The final one came when Dalton Kellett went off course.
Dixon’s latest victory was the 49th of his career, putting the New Zealander him behind only Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52).
Road America’s setup made it an ideal venue for IndyCar to start allowing fans. The sprawling, 640-acre layout surrounding the course allows fans to practice social distancing and roam the property rather than crowding into a grandstand.
“Since we’ve been here before, we know there’s plenty of room,” said Jason Shelley of Indianapolis, who said he usually attends four or five IndyCar races each year. “It’s kind of like watching a race in a state park, so this is the one place where I feel comfortable and safe because I know I can get away from people. I’m not going to be stacked on top of people. That’s why we came.”
Steve Lemon, a fan from Kankakee, Illinois, who usually attends about three races a year, said that “if it had been an oval, we wouldn’t have gone.”
Fans received temperature checks at gates and received masks and hand sanitizer as they entered.
Wearing a mask was encouraged but not required, and a stroll through along the Road America property indicated the majority of spectators were spending at least part of the time unmasked.
“All the staff and drivers and everybody are wearing masks, but I don’t think the fans are quite as good about it,” said Jim Cossaart, a spectator from Bristol, Vermont. “Human nature, I guess.”
IndyCar also plans to have spectators next weekend for a doubleheader in Iowa, where the oval track has grandstands. IndyCar is hoping fans will fill 50% of the speedway’s capacity for the Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23.