2004 IRL IndyCar Preview -- Target Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar Series Champion Looks for Repeat INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2004 -- What can 2003 IRL IndyCar SeriesÂ® champion Scott Dixon do for an encore? He has a few ideas. "I'm really...
2004 IRL IndyCar Preview -- Target Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar Series Champion Looks for Repeat
INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2004 -- What can 2003 IRL IndyCar Series® champion Scott Dixon do for an encore? He has a few ideas.
"I'm really looking forward to defending my championship and Target Chip Ganassi Racing is working hard to that end," said Dixon, who won the driver's title in his first season.
Dixon led the IndyCar Series with five pole positions and tied Gil de Ferran and Sam Hornish Jr. with a series-high three victories. He won his first start --at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- and topped all drivers in laps led (748) and races led (IndyCar Series-record 14).
Dixon will be wearing a bull's-eye this season, and it's not because he will drive the red-and-white No. 1 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone in the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 on Feb. 29. But pressure to perform is more internal than external.
"I think you always have a certain amount of pressure just to perform and make sure you do well," said Dixon, 23, a New Zealand native who clinched the title with a second-place finish at the season finale at Texas Motor Speedway. "Even being with such a good team like Team Target, I kind of like the pressure. It pushes you.
"I think even this year with Darren (Manning), I think it will be good to have a good teammate to do that as well. But I wouldn't say there's any more (pressure) this year to defend. I think we set the same goals this year as we did for last year and that's to try and win the championship again.
"We know we can win. We just want to take it a step further every race weekend."
Newcomer Manning has been taking small steps in preparation for the season opener. He took 340 laps with a quick time of 24.7714 seconds (215.813 mph) in four testing sessions in January at Homestead, and ran 330 laps (best of 20.4777 seconds; 175.801 mph) in four sessions earlier this month at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway.
"With two tests under my belt now with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I am very much looking forward to the 2004 season," said Manning, 28, whose majority of experience has been on road courses. "There's been a lot to learn, but I am definitely on pace for the first race in Homestead. It's all been kind of new to me; a new car, a new team and new tracks. There is an adjustment period but this team has been very supportive and they are proven winners.
"I'm going to go into every race with a chance of winning. They've shown they can lead laps, win races and win a championship. I've got all the resources at hand to really realize what I can do. I'm going to Homestead really thinking I stand a great chance of winning. If I go into every race thinking that, and hopefully, doing that at the odd time, the championship could hopefully follow."
Team owner Chip Ganassi, who announced on Nov. 5 the signing of Manning, believes the British driver will quickly get up to speed and complement Dixon.
"Coming in as champions of the 2003 season, of course our expectations are high for this year," Ganassi said. "The team will have good continuity with Scott Dixon and we hope to pick up where we left off. We also have high hopes for Darren Manning. Every year the competition gets a bit stronger and we live for that challenge."
CAPSULE LOOK AT TARGET CHIP GANASSI RACING
Chassis/engine: Toyota G-Force
Owner: Chip Ganassi
Drivers: Scott Dixon (No. 1), Darren Manning (No. 10)
Team manager: Mike Hull
Crew chief: Ricky Davis (No. 1), Dave Higuera (No. 10)
Chief engineers: Julian Robertson (No. 1), Bill Papas (No. 10)
Chip Ganassi: "As with every year, there will be a period of adaptation with the new rules and car packages. The teams that adapt the quickest will be successful. We expect to be among them. It should be an exciting year of racing for the team, drivers and especially the fans."
Scott Dixon: "With the changes to the rules to reduce downforce and slow the cars there is going to be an adjustment period for everyone that will add to the challenge. I learned a lot last season, had some success and we as a team are going to build on that. It's still early and we have a lot of improvements we want to make. The competition will be very strong again this year but I am definitely looking forward to getting the season going."
Darren Manning: "Target Chip Ganassi Racing is giving me all the tools necessary to be successful and I intend to reward their hard work by being competitive and among the front-runners at every race this season. I know the competition will be fierce and I'm looking forward to some good battles out there."
The 2004 IRL IndyCar Series season begins with the Toyota Indy 300 at 2 p.m. (EST) on Feb. 29, 2004, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The race will be broadcast live on ESPN and the IMS Radio Network.