In ambient temperatures of 87degF and track temp of 127degF the race got underway with Team Penske-Chevrolet’s polesitter Will Power headed straight into the lead with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe falling in line behind.
Patricio O’Ward’s Arrow McLaren SP-Chevy ran fifth ahead of Jack Harvey’s Meyer Shank Racing-Honda. Behind Sebastien Bourdais’ AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy in seventh ran Josef Newgarden in eighth, with his title rival Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing in 11th, separated from the #1 Penske by Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay and the second Arrow McLaren SP of Oliver Askew.
Power had started the 100-lap race on Firestone’s softer alternate tires, his immediate pursuers running the harder primaries. However, on Lap 5, Power suffered a gear downshift issue at Turn 10 which saw him skitter wide and allowed Rossi past. The loss of momentum by the lead Penske allowed Herta and Hinchcliffe through too down the front straight.
That left Rossi with a 2sec lead on Herta and Hinchcliffe, with Power 5sec back and working hard to defend from O’Ward.
VeeKay was the first of the front-runners to show his hand in terms of running a three-stop strategy, switching from the reds to blacks on Lap 12. Bourdais emulated this move on Lap 14, and this promoted title aspirants Newgarden into seventh and Dixon into ninth.
By Lap 20, Herta was running only 0.8sec behind Rossi, and 3.7 ahead of Hinchcliffe. Power, meanwhile, despite setting regular personal best laps, was now 12sec off the lead, although he was keeping one second ahead of O’Ward, the pair of them nursing their soft tires. O’Ward had a 1.5sec margin over Harvey. Newgarden fuel saved through the first 22 laps, but was told by strategist Tim Cindric to catch up to the Meyer Shank car before the first round of pitstops. For Newgarden, who had started on the primaries, this came at the end of Lap 27, and he took on new alternates, while Dixon stopped on Lap 28 to change from scrubbed blacks to fresh blacks. Power got off the reds and onto new primaries at the end of Lap 30, and the two Arrow McLarens stopped a lap later.
Newgarden had been flying on his reds and had a side-by-side battle with Power before nosing ahead and pulling away. Rossi, Herta and Hinchcliffe had switched to reds at their first stops, when Power got on the marbles and struck the wall at Turn 3, bent his suspension and went down the escape road at Turn 4 to park, race over. Out came the first caution of the race to get the #12 to a safer spot, and clean the track.
The restart on Lap 41 would see Rossi leading Herta and Hinchcliffe on reds, the three-stopping VeeKay in fourth on blacks and Newgarden fifth on reds. Four places behind was Dixon. Both Newgarden and Harvey muscled past VeeKay to grab fourth and fifth, but further back Santino Ferrucci’s Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan ended up in the Turn 2 wall, heavily damaged, after trying to run around the outside of Takuma Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan machine.
Under this second caution flag, VeeKay made his second stop and ECR teammate Conor Daly was soon limping to the pits with bent right-rear corner having struck the Turn 3 wall.
The lap 46 restart resulted in a third yellow, as Penske’s debutant Scott McLaughlin running 17th tried to go down the inside of Marco Andretti’s Andretti Autosport-Honda, couldn’t get far enough alongside and was nudged into a spin that caught up VeeKay, their cars ending up spun and stalled nose to nose.
Rossi, Herta, Hinchcliffe, Newgarden, Harvey and Graham Rahal’s RLL-Honda ran top six on primaries, with O’Ward, Dixon, Askew, Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), Sato and Simon Pagenaud (Penske) all on primaries.
The Lap 53 restart saw Rosenqvist – second on track due to losing a lap from a Ferrucci-caused puncture – trying to get past Rossi but he couldn’t quite make it.
Behind them, O’Ward moved up as did Dixon, who had to survive some hairy moments as he faced attack from Harvey, who would soon be penalized two spots for hip-checking Askew… who did the same thing on Hunter-Reay out of the hairpin onto the front straight.
Marco Andretti, meanwhile, was making great progress on his reds and passed Harvey and Askew in one slick maneuver at Turn 4, and dived down the inside of Rahal next time by to take seventh.
Well ahead of this fun was leader Rossi who by Lap 60 had a 1.9sec margin on Herta, with Hinchcliffe 2.7sec further back, coming under increasing pressure from Newgarden.
O’Ward was just about holding off Dixon in sixth who had pulled out 4.5sec on the Andretti vs Rahal battle for seventh, which was 1.6sec up on the Hunter-Reay vs Askew battle.
On Lap 63, Herta made an error under braking at Turn 4, which allowed Hinchcliffe and Newgarden into second and third. The defending champion didn’t stay there long, as he made another stop on Lap 65 for primary blacks. That forced the hand of the competition, Rossi and Dixon pitting on Lap 66, O’Ward on 67. Andretti, Harvey and Bourdais pitted next time by, Hinchcliffe a lap after that, Herta a lap after that – and Colton thereby jumped James to get back to a (net) second.
That allowed Rahal, Hunter-Reay, Askew and Marcus Ericsson into the top four but still needing their final stop. Then the axe fell on their chances, as Rossi – who had just allowed Rosenqvist to get his lap back – lost it exiting Turn 3 and smacked into the walls on either side.
So the new order was Herta, Hinchcliffe, Alex Palou (off strategy and on reds), Newgarden, O’Ward, Dixon, Andretti, Harvey, Sato, and Pagenaud.
However, a huge move by Sato down the inside of Harvey at Turn 4, saw him clip the right-hand-rear of Andretti, deflating his tire and spinning him out at Turn 5.
As the yellow flew, Hinchcliffe spun at the hairpin, restarted and pulled out right into the path of Harvey which cost him his front wing and he couldn’t get over to pull into the pitlane entrance, so had to limp around under yellow for another lap.
Simultaneously rain started falling…
The Lap 80 restart saw Palou on light tanks and red tires outdrag leader Herta down the straight into Turn 1, but the pair of them then lost momentum trying to jockey for position as the track switches went from the right hander to the left-hand Turn 2, and Newgarden passed the pair of them around the outside in a brilliantly opportunistic maneuver.
Palou then lost momentum on worn rubber, and fell behind Herta, Dixon and O’Ward, but clung onto fifth. However, at Turn 10, Sato made contact with Askew, sending the local lad in the #7 Arrow McLaren SP into the tires on the outside. Another yellow.
Then Oriol Servia in the Pace Car ran out of fuel, leaving Newgarden effectively as the Pace Car.
The restart with 16 laps to go saw O’Ward dive up the inside of Dixon at Turn 1, and up the inside of Herta at Turn 4 and immediately closed in on Newgarden.
Herta then slid off at Turn 4 and was able to resume but in 13th, elevating Dixon back to the podium just ahead of Bourdais, Palou (who still hadn’t stopped!), Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Rosenqvist, Charlie Kimball and Ericsson.
With 10 laps to go, Newgarden stabilized his lead at just over one second, and with eight laps to go it was out to two seconds, and he was still setting personal bests, stretching the lead out to 4.3 seconds with five laps to go. In fact, O’Ward was now having to watch his mirrors for Dixon and Bourdais.
Palou finally pitted and resumed in 13th, elevating Hunter-Reay into fifth ahead of Pagenaud and Ericsson. Meanwhile Rosenqvist had to make his fifth stop of the day and fell outside the Top 15.
Newgarden scored his fourth win of the season, crossing the line 4sec ahead of O’Ward, whose runner-up finish meant he wrested fourth in the points race from Power.
Behind the new (and regular!) champion Dixon, Bourdais claimed a great fourth for AJ Foyt Racing, with Hunter-Reay remarkably ending up as top Andretti Autosport runner despite starting 19th.
Dixon’s sixth championship means he is now only one title short of AJ Foyt’s record.
Arrow McLaren SP
Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport
Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh
Arrow McLaren SP
Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb-Agajani
Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan