Chip Ganassi is one IndyCar victory away from a special milestone and Scott Dixon hopes to be the one to deliver it this weekend in Fontana.
This just in: Scott Dixon is less than one race-win away from leading the Verizon IndyCar Series title chase. The Kiwi has 40 points to make up on leader Juan Pablo Montoya and, had he not had difficulties with his air jack at St Petersburg, been a non-entity in the New Orleans muck or had strategy ills in Toronto, this might be a different scenario altogether.
The second two-time winner of the year (there are now three: Montoya, Dixon and Josef Newgarden, all driving Chevrolets) heads to California this weekend with a rather hot hand. Known for slow starts and strong finishes in his IndyCar career, Dixon is in better shape now, as the series heads for its second half thrust than he ever has before.
It would be fantastic to get the 100th IndyCar win [for Ganassi]. If you’re doing your job right, that’s going to come anyway.
Dixon has a victory at Long Beach (his first) and at Texas Motor Speedway, two very different circuits. “I think we’ve done well on ovals so far this year,” Dixon mused. “The car was very good at Indy, despite the overheating of the engine at the end of the race that cost us another shot at the 500. And in Texas, both the 9 and 10 cars were definitely the class of the field.” One gets the view that the balance of the 23 competition this weekend will have good looks at whatever setup the Target, NTT DATA, Levemir FlexTouch and Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Ganassi teams choose to run.
Dixon to take on the heat in California
Teammate Tony Kanaan won the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. last year, held at twilight into dark, where this race takes place in 90-degree mid-day sunshine. “Obviously different conditions this year going from a night race to a day race. I think degradation and trying to maintain pace over a stint is going to be the tough situation, especially with the track temp being higher during the day.”
Dixon expects the challenge to be difficult, but his personal training regimen has the Indianapolis-area resident prepared for conditions in California. “It will be draining and hopefully we’re up for the task,” he said. “I expect this year to be quite tough,” and not just personally. “There’s a lot of unknowns with the new aero kit. Every track we go to is a steep learning curve because of that situation, not being able to go off of anything from last year… with a day race and different scenarios we’ve had” for this 500-mile contest.
It’s really hard to reconcile this mature, confident Scott Dixon with the young, inexperienced kid that took his first victory on the Nazareth mile oval and felt totally out of place. Dixon now owns 37 career Indy car victories, is fifth on the all-time list, trailing only the legendary A.J. Foyt, Mario and Michael Andretti and Al Unser in the wins column. “All but one of those wins has been with Team Target (and that would be the first victory for PacWest Racing). If we do things right, we’ll be able to move up on that list a few more spots,” he believes.
And we should believe that too.
More unknowns with new aero kits
As Dixon and his competitors arrive in California, they’ll be looking at another high downforce package decreed by INDYCAR for this weekend. With his Chevrolet Dixon has “a lot of options, which is great, but you can mess it up, especially with setups and cross-weights and mechanical things. Each time you go back, the track is quite different,” Dixon reminded. “It’s always a lot of unknowns but I think this year there’s a lot more added unknowns going into the weekend than we’ve had previous years.”
Looking to the future for the Verizon IndyCar Series, Dixon would like to see a definitive split of road/street and oval races. “When I first came to America in Indy Lights, it was 12 races, six road and streets, six short tracks and super speedways. I think a lot of people, just from what I hear from fans, they’d obviously like to add more ovals to the series. I think INDYCAR is very unique. There’s no other racing class in the world that has so many disciplines - and disciplines you have to be real good at. I think the perfect split is 50/50.”
100th win on the horizon
Many remember that, for nearly three years Team Penske carried hats designating their 100th win, which finally came with Gil de Ferran at Nazareth in 2000. The next victory for a Ganassi driver will mark that team’s 100th win, and it’s more likely to occur sooner than later. “It would be fantastic to get the 100th IndyCar win [for Ganassi]. If you’re doing your job right, that’s going to come anyway.
“I think the focus for us is every weekend, getting the most out of the first practice, any practice, get the most out of qualifying and try to win the race. Yes, I would love to bring that 100th, but there are three other guys on the team - Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Sage Karam - that will be trying to do the same thing. It’s fantastic for Chip, what he’s accomplished in a pretty short-term, with a team like this, across many platforms.”
Yes, that’s right. And it’s pretty fantastic that Scott Dixon has added 36 of those victories to the Ganassi win list. He could be a threat to take No. 100 on Saturday afternoon.