Dixon in familiar place ahead of final race
Despite racing for his fifth Indycar title in California this weekend, Kiwi motor racing superstar Scott Dixon admits that a change in engine manufacturer and aero-kit left him with far lower expectations for 2017.
Dixon, a two-time former Halberg NZ Sportsman of the Year, sits just three points behind American Josef Newgarden ahead of the season’s final race in Sonoma on Monday NZT.
With two second places in his last two races, Dixon, who has driven for Chip Ganassi Racing since 2002, heads to the Grand Prix of Sonoma with momentum, while the race’s double points mean the Kiwi veteran has every chance of claiming the season’s crown with the final chequered flag. Yet few Indycar experts, members of Dixon’s car crew and the driver himself were that confident he’d be this competitive after Chip Ganassi Racing switched engine manufacturer and aero-kit from Chevrolet to Honda in the offseason. Dixon last raced using Honda in 2013.
‘‘We maybe got, well, not so much complacent but a little stuck in our ways with how we approached some venues,’’ Dixon, whose sixth place finish last year marked his worst season since 2005, said ahead of a recent Indycar race in Madison, Illinois.
‘‘[The new engine and aero-kit] was kind of like having a new shiny toy – it was something we could look at a lot differently. We really had nothing to lose because we knew it was going to be a tough change. The engine is very good from Honda but the aero kit is a huge disadvantage. I think we surprised ourselves for the first quarter or half of the season with the performance we had.’’
Dixon capped an exceptional start to the season ahead of the Indy 500 in May, qualifying for the glamour race with the fastest time in 21 years and climbing to the top of the driver standings.
Yet the Kiwi would suffer a nightmare race weekend in his new hometown. Dixon was mugged at a fast food restaurant, before being involved in a horror in-race crash that saw him escape, remarkably, with just a fractured ankle.
Dixon, known for his calm, pragmatic approach to racing, brushed off the crash, but rued lost opportunities for points as the season has progressed.
‘‘We should have won St Pete [and] we should have won Long Beach. We got pole at Indy , and got some good points at [the] Indianapolis [Grand Prix]. We should have won or finished second in Texas.
‘‘We look back already and we’ve lost a ton of points - 60 or 80 plus points - that could have made a huge difference.’’
Whatever the future holds, Dixon, who is planning to drive competitively until he’s at least 40, reckons the wild world of Indycar is still, mostly, as fun now as it was when he debuted in 2001.
‘‘Some things are,’’ he says, with a laugh. ‘‘ Some things get …well, you learn to expect a certain amount of things sometimes too when you get older and have been immersed in it so long. I think that also drives the inspiration too, though.’’
Scott Dixon is chasing a fifth Indycar championship title this weekend.