Scott Dixon trails Team Penske in the championship, but can he bridge the gap in the final half of 2015?
Jimmy Vasser, the 1996 Indy car champion and current co-owner of KV Racing Technology, coined the phrase: “There is no I in team but there is in Chip” many years ago while he was driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. It was one of those off-hand comments that became part of lore and continues to be used whenever Ganassi makes some off-kilter remark or imposes will on his four-car team.
One thing that Chip Ganassi does so exceptionally well though, is allow his teams to be built to their own needs. By placing Mike Hull in charge of all his four-car Verizon IndyCar Series squads for drivers Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam/Sebastian Saavedra; Ganassi has constructed a pyramid of exceptional efficiency, speed and success.
A winning combination
This year there is a shakeup in the engineering corps at Chip Ganassi Racing. Just about the only guy that didn’t move was strategist Hull. The native Californian, who remains with Dixon’s No. 9 team, is working with the three-time champion who currently holds third-place points following his victory in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night, 43 behind Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya.
Chris Simmons now works with Dixon after spending the bulk of his Ganassi engineering career with Dario Franchitti and helping the Scot with three of his four championships and two of his three Indianapolis 500 titles. The change seems to be resonating well with Simmons who donned his engineer’s hat following his own driving career in the early to mid-1990s. Simmons, some may recall, was one of Team Green’s two initial drivers when cigarette manufacturer KOOL entered the Indy Lights series in 1996; the other was Greg Ray, who went on to his oval-only Indy Racing League career, taking that title in 1999.
Simmons will tell you he wasn’t the most successful driver in Indy Lights during his 1996-1997 competition (two poles, four podiums and sixth in 1997 - when Tony Kanaan won the title) but there’s no doubt that his driving career enhanced his position as a top-tier engineer of Indy cars. Certainly he made the right calls for his driver on Saturday night - even though the Kiwi wasn’t terribly sure of that at the start of the sunlight-to-moonlight race on the 1.455-mile high banked oval.
Dixon wasn’t terribly keen on the higher downforce setup for his car before Saturday’s race began. “Well,” he said, “the debate started after the warmup,” where he thought he’d get his way on setup. At mid-afternoon on race day, Dixon received a text from Simmons saying “we were going the other way, to where I went, saw him and tried to push to go back.” Right up to the green flag, “I was still moaning pretty good.” The first two rows of the grid were running far less downforce than Simmons applied to his Chevy kit and Dixon thought that’s what he needed.
Simmons knows best
As it turns out, Simmons had the right idea all along and Dixon noted, after taking the checkered flags, “I’m glad they understood what they were doing. That’s why they do what they do. I just drive the car.”
This year’s Indianapolis 500 pole sitter is known for liking a loose car and Simmons thought long and hard about the setup to get the car to his driver’s liking in the changing conditions. At one point it was too loose and the team made appropriate adjustments to the car. “Mid to latter part of the race, we were running a lot of flat-out laps. That was a transition where I thought there might be a crossover with some of the guys that were trimmed out. We were able to manage the tires in the last 10 laps of a stint - where it really counted - and we didn’t have much fall-off, and that’s really what made the difference.”
That, and maybe an engineer and team manager atop the timing stand that understand the meaning of teamwork and working to provide the best setup for their driver throughout a long, challenging race.
And now, as the Verizon IndyCar Series season hits its second-half stride, Scott Dixon has to be considered a huge factor, even though he’s nearly a race-win behind leader Montoya. The series returns to Toronto this weekend, where Dixon won both races in a doubleheader two years ago. He normally starts each season slowly but, with two races already to his credit it might be time for everyone to check their mirrors.
Scott Dixon currently has 37 wins on his INDYCAR resume and looks primed to pocket even more. Could this be a second-half surge for the Iceman?