With Sebastien Bourdais coming home fifth and Dalton Kellett finishing 12th, it was a season-best race for A.J. Foyt Enterprises after the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Four-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Bourdais tied his season-best finish in the No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, which came in the season-opener at Barber Motorsports Park. Kellett topped his career-best finish by six positions, with his previous best being an 18th place three times this season.
Bourdais said Saturday night’s finish was less indicative of his car’s performance and more a sign of what can happen if his team executes perfectly. To him, the result is proof of the team’s capabilities.
“Obviously, we got a little bit lucky with that last yellow that came just before we were going to pit and trapped quite a few guys,” he said. “I think it was a total team effort tonight. The car wasn’t the best. It wasn’t the quickest thing out there, but it was so tough to pass. We just played the long game and didn’t make any mistakes on track or in the pits. Very happy for the boys.”
Bourdais added the performance on the final oval of the season was indicative of the work he and the crew have put in to help A.J. Foyt’s two-car team move toward the front of the field. He hopes this is only the beginning.
“(We’re) trying to elevate the game on the team side,” he said. “It’s not easy. Obviously, the competitiveness of the field is really high. It’s not the easiest year to achieve what we’re trying to do. We dug deep, we’ve shown some pace and some good speed, but unfortunately very few results. Just couldn’t quite close the deal many times. Hopefully this is the turnaround of our season.”
Whether or not the results translate to road or street courses remains to be seen, but there is a clear uptick in the team’s oval performance. In the three previous oval races at Texas Motor Speedway (twice) and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, neither A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver had placed a driver in the top 15. The team’s best oval finish was 18th by Kellett.
Jones, Rahal Play Blame Game in Lap 3 Incident
It was clear from the start of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 that it was going to be an aggressive, short-track Saturday night for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, with the first incident of the day coming on Lap 3 between Ed Jones and Graham Rahal.
But as far as who was the aggressor and who wasn’t? Jones and Rahal left World Wide Technology Raceway pointing fingers squarely at each other.
Just after the start of the race, Jones entered Turn 1 on the inside of Rahal. They ran side-by-side momentarily until Jones’ No. 18 SealMaster Honda hit the side of Rahal’s No. 15 Hy-Vee Honda. Jones went spinning into the outside SAFER Barrier, while Rahal limped back to the garage with a damaged left side pod.
Jones said he believes Rahal was being too aggressive early in the race and didn’t give him the bottom lane, prompting their incident and the first caution of the night.
“It was the third lap of the race, you’re pushing, but there’s no need to take super-unnecessary risks,” Jones said. “I was a ways ahead of him into the corner, and he just turned down on me. I’m not surprised from him. It’s just unnecessary.”
Rahal had a different perspective on the incident, saying he felt Jones “ran out of talent” entering Turn 1, resulting in two damaged race cars.
“Maybe on his behalf, because I broke early,” Rahal said. “He blocked me bad, as everybody could see, and I broke early into Turn 1 to give him a lot of space. Ran out of talent. I don’t know what else to say. You can see he’s a full car width off the apex. Maybe he should have hit the brakes earlier if he thought it was too aggressive and use his head, but he didn’t.”
It brought an abrupt end to the race for both drivers, who fared well throughout the day. Rahal was fourth fastest in the only practice of the day, and he qualified ninth. Meanwhile, Jones was 15th in practice and lined upon the grid 12th.
Dixon Salvages Points in First DNF In Two Years
Scott Dixon’s night at World Wide Technology Raceway quickly turned from trying to score his second win of the season to salvaging anything possible for the championship after a Lap 65 accident.
Six-time and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon was caught in an incident in Turn 1 when Rinus VeeKay’s No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet hit the rear of his No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda before taking out his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Alex Palou in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda.
Palou and VeeKay’s nights ended there, but Dixon was able to take his car to pit lane for repairs. The Chip Ganassi Racing crew took his blue-and-orange machine to the garage, where repairs continued.
For Dixon, who entered the race third in the championship standings and 34 points behind leader Palou, the goal was to repair the car as best as possible to gain spots in the running order, and therefore score more points.
Once Dixon worked his way up the leaderboard as far as he could, it was the end of the night for the Kiwi.
“I can’t thank the team enough,” Dixon said. “We even changed differentials. We broke the differentials. We tried to fix everything that was wrong with the car just to see if we could get back out there. Obviously, it took almost 80 laps to fix it.
“It’s unfortunate. I feel really bad for myself and Alex. I really don’t know what (Rinus) VeeKay was trying to do there, and he took us out of the race.”
The incident made for more than just a bad finish for Dixon. It created major implications in the battle for the Astor Challenge Cup. Dixon lost a spot in the standings, falling to fourth, and he is 43 points out of the lead, which Pato O’Ward captured after his second-place finish.
Dixon has only one win at the sites of the remaining three races, scoring the victory at Long Beach in 2015. But he has more experience at the other two races, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and Portland International Raceway, than his young championship rivals Palou and O’Ward.
His biggest competitor could prove to be Saturday night’s winner, Josef Newgarden, who also has never won at any of the remaining three races but, unlike Palou and O’Ward, has competed at all three tracks.
Dixon knows the challenge ahead, but the driver with the second-most championships in INDYCAR SERIES history is ready for the fight.
“It’s going to be tough, obviously, but we’ve got to make the most of it,” he said. “We’ll see how the rest of the races play out, but if we have three strong races to finish the season out, then we’re still in the fight. We’re not out, so we’ll keep digging.”
Odds and Ends:
- Scott Dixon finished 19th, completing just 100 laps in the 260-lap race. Not only was it his worst result of the season, but it is his first DNF since August 2019, when he finished 20th with a radiator issue at this same 1.25-mile oval.
- With Pato O’Ward finishing second and Simon Pagenaud’s eighth-place finish, the two put an exclamation point on their oval racing season as the only drivers to score top-10 finishes in each on each of the four oval events.
- It was a day of hurt feelings and pointing fingers at World Wide Technology Raceway. During practice, Alexander Rossi expressed frustration at friend Conor Daly and the No. 59 Carlin team. In his post-race press conference, Pato O’Ward insinuated he struggles to race around Rossi: “People know who they can race dirty or not.”
- On Friday, Alex Peroni was named the 2020 Peter Brock Medal winner after a stellar career in Formula 3 ahead of his move to Indy Lights this season. The Peter Brock Medal, named for the Australian racing icon, is awarded annually to an Australian driver who has shown similar characteristics to the late Brock. F1 veteran Mark Webber is a notable award winner, and Peroni was presented the award by 2014 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Will Power. Peroni finished fifth in Race 1 on Friday and sixth in Race 2 on Saturday.
- David Malukas scored his fifth Indy Lights win of the season Friday from the pole. On Saturday, he backed up his performance by sweeping the weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway and taking the points lead after his sixth win of the season.
- After starting second and taking the lead on Lap 1, Braden Eves all 55 laps en route to his third Indy Pro 2000 win of the season Saturday evening.