It's been a roller coaster of a year for Scott Dixon, the New Zealander who came to the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series for the first time this year with the weight of Target Chip Ganassi Racing's might to assist him in a battle for the championship.
On to the 87th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, where Dixon qualified fourth yet took himself out under yellow, the adage "hero to zero" appeared to apply. Dixon recovered well at the first Texas Motor Speedway night race when he took the #9 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota to a second place start next to teammate Tomas Scheckter and finished a credible sixth.
The Kiwi won the next two rounds at Pikes Peak and Richmond and he nearly turned the hat trick when Dixon took MBNA pole in the Kansas heat, yet finished sixth. Staying in the title hunt, Dixon earned pole position at Nashville and came home second, started second in Michigan and nabbed fifth.
He had gearbox problems again in St. Louis and parlayed fifth on the grid to 15th at the close, while in Kentucky Dixon started and finished second to Sam Hornish Jr.. On to Nazareth where Scott won his first CART race, he took pole but again had difficulties and finished the race in the garage, in 16th. Dixon was a bridesmaid in the last two events at Chicagoland and California, finishing second both times to Hornish.
And now there is one race remaining in the 16-event IndyCar Series chase. One mid-afternoon race at Texas Motor Speedway to decide the championship. Dixon is tied with Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske, both holding 467 points. Dixon gets higher placing thanks to his three victories (and five record-tying MBNA poles) to the Brazilian's two wins. And Scott Dixon has led in a record 13 races thus far.
Tony Kanaan of Andretti Green Racing (460 points), Hornish (448) from Pennzoil Panther Racing and Marlboro Team Penske's Gil de Ferran with 437 points are the only other drivers still eligible for the IndyCar Series championship. That's a minute 30 points from first to fifth!
The Chevy 500 will be held next Sunday, October 12th and will decide this year's driving and owner's competition. It's a one-race shootout and Dixon has the view from top of the hill. "I'm going to approach the weekend the same as I do each time. I'll be going there to win. It's the easiest way to win the championship," Dixon stated. "We've worked very hard. It would be a good reward, after the rough start to the season, to win the title."
Working with Chip Ganassi, who has guided three other drivers to series titles - Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya - Dixon realizes he's got a highly motivated owner behind him. "Chip has shown his support all along. He's been there and it's good to have him and this crew working with me.
"They've won so many races and championships. All championships are different, of course, but the biggest thing I get from Chip and the guys is their support." Dixon shows maturity beyond his 22 years - he'll be 23 on October 4th - and understands what it takes to compete at this level.
"You have to have the tools and spend the money in the right areas. That's what gives you confidence going in. Being with a winning team," he laughed, "is better than some other scenarios."
Does he feel it? Is his stomach tingling as he approaches his destiny? "Not really," the sanguine Dixon explained. "There's a lot of talk about it but I try not to look at the whole thing. It'll either work out or not but I feel we've got a pretty fair shot" at the championship.
The Chevy 500K finale will be the seventh time Indy car contest on a 1.5- mile track this season. "The last segment tells you if you have a chance. You try not to hit the wall or run someone else off" during the early parts of the race. "You sit back and get keyed up for that last segment."
Sam Hornish's three victories in the last four races have, for the most part, come when he's hogged the top line. "I want the whole track. We've struggled on the high side but at Texas, we have to make sure we work well down low. I'd probably still want the outside against Sam," Dixon chuckled.
Hornish's success, regardless of the new Gen IV Chevy Indy V8, Dixon acknowledged, means he's "done a superb job in this game. He's been at the right place at the right time and he's got the experience at this type of racing. He knows the game."
All five contenders are doing something special for the last race, Dixon predicts. "We'll go all-out" with different body parts, different specifications for the engines. "It will be an extremely fast and high- intensity race," Dixon believes. "I expect the same pace as the last few races."
"I'm sure all the other guys have their own scenarios but I have to look ahead to give myself the best chance" in this tight battle. "I plan to have the best car for the end of the race," even as he hopes to nab an amazing sixth MBNA pole position. "I hope to at least make sure we start near the front.
"That last stop will be crucial and I know that all of the guys have been working on their timing" and their northside Indianapolis shop. "The guys at Team Target are working out to be prepared, to get the car prepped" for this Texas showdown.
"There's a lot on the line and we have to make sure we continue to have safe races" when dueling at a record-breaking pace like that at California Speedway. "There have been a lot of lucky guys with our racing being so clean. I think you'll see people leaning on one another a bit more than the last few times and for the last 50 laps, I expect chaos.
"We do need to look after each other, but I'll try to gain an advantage" in the waning laps. This could be the most important race of my career, but I don't want to think about it," Scott Dixon contends. "I'll just try to think of it as just another race."