Did Scott Dixon's victory in the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix last month turn around the difficult last couple of seasons experienced by his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team? The victory had to be a morale-booster for a squad that's been beset ...
Did Scott Dixon's victory in the Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix last month turn around the difficult last couple of seasons experienced by his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team?
The victory had to be a morale-booster for a squad that's been beset by everything but a plague of locusts, going from titleholders in their first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season to also-rans in their second and third. The problems began just ten days after the close of the 2003 campaign when Dixon's intended teammate Tony Renna died in his initial team test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Darren Manning was called in as Renna's replacement, but both the Briton and Dixon discovered the playing field had changed, seemingly overnight. Where Toyota had an optimal power mill in 2003, they became a secondary player in the next season and tertiary this year to Honda and Chevrolet.
It's been a long ride up that powerless hill for Dixon and for his team, which jettisoned Manning mid-season and lost the services of third 2005 driver Ryan Briscoe in an awful Chicagoland crash that was reminiscent of Renna's lethal dance with the walls.
Briscoe is recovering ahead of schedule; Jaques Lazier will partner Dixon in the Toyota Indy 400 season finale this weekend on the 2-mile California Speedway and next year? Well, that's still not determined, although the Kiwi will return to Ganassi's fold for a third consecutive campaign.
While Dixon never believed it would take a Noah-like 40 races to reach Victory Lane again - his last win before The Glen was in 2003 on the .75- mile Richmond oval - he does know the win meant a lot to the team. He's hoping that momentum - and a car that "rolls off well" - could give him two in a row.
"Toyota has made some gains and that will be good for us. They've made some software changes for different things. It's been in the pipeline for a while but there have been some teething issues," Dixon confirmed. "It's good to see that Toyota is still trying," despite their avowal to leave the IndyCar Series after 2006.
"So yeah, we go in with optimism. What's the point otherwise? We expect sufficient power, but it's hard to know just how the car reacts until we get there." With the Toyota Indy 400 being a two-day weekend, morning practice will be of the utmost importance to get a good qualifying slot for the 3PM PDT single car session.
At the onset of 2005's 17-race campaign, Dixon was optimistic, because it's his nature. "Our goals were to win Indy and the championship and it was hard to see how much we struggled. It was very frustrating but we've come close to turning the corner for the better."
Including his victory on the Watkins Glen 3.37-mile road course, Dixon has a miserly four top-10 results in 2005. He's been involved in four accidents and had three mechanical failures that have put him out of the running. It hasn't been a lot of fun since he clinched the 2003 title in Texas, but the stalwart Dixon has stuck with it.
For the moment, his plans for the off-season include taking part in Juan Pablo Montoya's invitational charity karting event and he hopes to get another crack at the Rolex 24 at Daytona after his initial try last winter.
This weekend's race will be Dixon's fifth try at conquering the California Speedway oval and his third in an Indy car. "It's a very long race and we really didn't have the speed last year. It's a great track for racing," he recognized.
Because the Fontana circuit is so similar to Michigan International Speedway in size and structure, Dixon feels pretty confident he can do as good a job in qualifying this weekend as he did there in July, where Scott was fourth on the 23-car grid. He didn't fare so well in that race, though, dropping out after experiencing "severe vibration in the race.
"If you can stay at the front with the lead pack here," Dixon continued, minor shifts in balance (in a stint) can help you," along the way. As he did here last year, Dixon's #9 will carry bright pink livery to honor National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. "It's pretty special; it's for a good cause."
Another avenue of interest for Dixon right now is the new A1GP Series, in which national teams compete against one another for honors. Dixon visited the second round last weekend and remarked, "It doesn't look new. There are key people, there's a good amount of money and it's good to see them succeed with all of the other series stuggling around the world.
"The cars are very nice, very well put-together. I've checked it out," Dixon peaked. He'd love to do the two rounds at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and in Monterrey, Mexico, two venues he knows extremely well. If Ganassi agrees, "That would be great. I hope to work it out within the next couple of weeks if no conflicts exist."
In the long term, Dixon has nothing set in stone beyond 2006. "It's hard to call. I've been talking with different series but everybody's not really sure what's going on."