After a hectic first month encompassing four races, the IndyCar Series focuses its sights for the next month on the crown jewel of the sport: Indianapolis and the 92nd running of the 500. A driver who has not yet tasted the milk but stands as one of the favorites to win this year's edition is Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon.
Dixon's been at the front of the field lately, leading the most laps his last two starts in Japan and Kansas, but has been snake bit when it comes to leading on the last lap. He finished in a disheartening third place on both occasions.
Today the nationwide traveler made a pit stop at the legendary and treacherous Milwaukee Mile, the only active circuit older than Indianapolis, to discuss his season to this point. "It's tough, because coming up short two races in a row is very frustrating," Dixon told Motorsport.com's reporter exclusively. "The first week you can take it, but it is more difficult when it happens two weeks in a row. We have to have some good luck for the month of May, because we have the speed, the package and the team."
"As far as Indy goes, being in position to win comes down to a lot of things. You have to have a great car, great pit stops and good position on the last stop; in 2003 we had the fuel pickup problems. It's a combination of a lot of things, you need the speed, consistency and good luck."
This year's 500 marks Dixon's sixth try, all coming underneath Ganassi's banner. The last time the storied open-wheel owner won the event was in 2000 with Juan Pablo Montoya, who tied his best oval finish in NASCAR this weekend with a runner-up finish at the Sprint Cup event in Talladega. Dixon has the longest tenure of any driver in Ganassi's history, in any series. What makes the Kiwi thrive in a no-nonsense, expect-to-win environment?
"For me, it's that the personalities don't clash," Dixon said of his relationship with Ganassi. "I'm quite a quiet guy, and we don't fight about stuff. We both expect to work our hardest and the best we can to win, and he's a straight up guy. For our team in (Sprint) Cup, this was a good effort. Our (IndyCar) side of the team expects to win each weekend, but the Cup side is still trying to perform."
Dixon also touched on his relationship with teammate Dan Wheldon: "It's pretty good now," he quipped. "There were a few tough moments early on. We're both very competitive, but now we have a good friendship and work together as teammates, though the first year was a bit tough."
Dixon's downfall at Kansas was an ill-timed caution while he was pitting, another case of bad luck. How his teammate won was due in some part to backmarkers that hindered Tony Kanaan's challenge. With the bigger field, Dixon acknowledged that more competition was only beneficial to the series. He also hinted the increased field size could pose a challenge at Indy given the amount of practice time.
"I think it's fantastic, as there's a lot more going out on the track," Dixon said of the added competition. "Their transitions have been very quick. They've made a smooth transition so far considering the circumstances."
"The way the schedule is for Indy, it makes them a lot better. It gives them more time to work on the car, just based on how the cars are put together. I think they'll get up to speed a lot better, but from that part of the season onwards they'll find it tough based on the two-day weekends like we had at Kansas."
With more cars and a couple noteworthy new winners this season, it was interesting to hear the veteran's perspective on where the IndyCar Series goes from here. "I think the merge was necessary, with the right pieces put together," Dixon offered. "I've always said whether they do it or not was their business."
"For the new formula, they need to concentrate on keeping it similar. I would like a little more power out of the car, make the cars a little better. I have no idea what engine they would look into. It's such an early stage and they are trying out many ideas. Turbos could be a good addition, but there's diesel power too and lots of other options."
Forgotten amidst the hoopla of the current "transition drivers" from Champ Car now, were the ones that switched after the 2002 season, but did not have the same tag applied. Dixon was among those and promptly won on debut at Homestead, later going on to win the season championship after a year- long battle with four other drivers.
As it stands now, the top four in the standings are covered by 15 points. Although he currently trails Helio Castroneves by six markers, Dixon won at Homestead this year and didn't take the points lead until later in the year. Anyone else see a parallel? The New Zealander continues his championship push with the start of practice at Indy on May 6, with the race a further 19 days after that.