Indy Racing League Weekly Press Conference March 4, 2003 Scott Dixon K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week Tuesday March 4th. Today we will have a visit with Scott Dixon about his win in the Toyota...
Indy Racing League
Weekly Press Conference
March 4, 2003
K. Johnson: We welcome everyone to the Indy Racing teleconference for this week Tuesday March 4th. Today we will have a visit with Scott Dixon about his win in the Toyota Indy 300 IndyCara Series event in the race that took place this past Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. We will also take a look forward to the next event weekend on the Indy Racing calendar, that being the Phoenix 100 on March 22nd and the Purex Dial Indy 200 on March 23rd and Phoenix International Raceway.
K. Johnson: Now let's welcome the winner of the Toyota Indy 300 IndyCar Series event, Scott Dixon. Scott, welcome. Thanks for joining us today.
Scott Dixon: Thank you.
Johnson: Just a brief background on Scott. He is 22 years old, a native of Auckland, New Zealand and currently resides in Indianapolis. He was the 2001 CART Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year, finishing 13th in the final season point standings and his victory at Nazareth in 2001 at the age of 20 years, 9 months and 14 days made Scott the youngest driver to win in any major open-wheel series. This year, Scott is driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G Force/Toyota/Firestone, and this past weekend in his IndyCar Series debut Scott started on the outside of the sixth row, worked his way through the field and took the lead for good on Lap 148 of the 200-lap event. Scott, throughout the weekend's practice sessions, you had been just outside the leaders on the speed chart then ended up qualifying 12th. What was the mindset and the expectation for the race?
Dixon: We always knew that Homestead was probably going to be our hardest race just out package. It did not seem like our car was going to be too good there. We sort of knew from the preseason tests we had there we tried as hard, as hard as we could trying to get the car better there but it did not seem to help us too much. I think we would have liked to have qualified a lot higher than where we did. We missed on the balance a little and just had too much understeer. So it was a little disappointing after qualifying. We had worked on the race setup all through the race weekend, and we knew that we were going to have a pretty good car for that. I guess in some sense we were little surprised with how good the car was in the race.
Johnson: Now you drive a Panoz G Force chassis, and through Friday and Saturday the Panoz G Force did not appear to be the chassis of choice, speedwise, but then come race day you put it in victory lane.
Dixon: Yes, as I said before, you know, we knew we were going to struggle at Homestead. For some reason, I think we just struggled for aero and downforce with the G Force. It was going to be a hard weekend. But you know, we are just happy that we came out of there with the win and with some great points because I think it was going to be the hardest race for that chassis.
Johnson: Let's talk specifications just a moment if we could. This was your initial IndyCar Series event as it was for the new chassis and engine specifications for 2003. Only three cars dropped out of the race, all due to contact. Tell us your thoughts about the various packages we are seeing on the grid this season.
Dixon: I think we have probably picked one of the better ones, especially for the high-speed tracks and shorter ones like Phoenix. The Toyota engine is great. We have not had a problem yet with that and even through the previous years I have been with them there definitely going to be pretty hard to beat this year. I do not know. This year I think it is with the engine manufacturers that are coming, with Honda and Toyota, everything is being raised. The competition is being raised with the new teams. It is going to be a tough year, but I think hopefully we can carry on like this.
Q: Scott, first of all, I do not know if you know this or not, but Chip just about interrupted the National Anthem when you crossed the finished line at the race in Las Vegas. Just as everything got quiet you crossed the finish line, and Chip is jumping up and down because he is watching it on TV. What were the first things he said to you when you talked to him?
Dixon: He was definitely pretty happy. He said, "Great job," before he left to go to Vegas. He basically told us that if we both finished in the top five it would have been like a win to him, anyway. He knew we were struggling a little with the car, but he was very, very happy. It is going to be good to see him. I think he is coming into the shop tomorrow. It was a pleasant surprise.
Q: There is supposed to be a learning curve on ovals, but it seems like you growing up as a road racer and having your desires in road racing and street course racing, you go to Milwaukee to win, you go to Homestead to win. What happened to the learning curve?
Dixon: I do not know. I came up through the categories, and I learned a lot in Indy Lights, for sure. I crashed a few times, and you learn how to hit the wall and things like that. It was tough my first year in Indy Lights. I think we had our first win Indy Lights in Chicago that year, too, with both first wins in CART and Indy Lights coming on the mile oval, which is kind of surprising. Some ways it's a little disappointing that I could never seem to get one on the road course. But I do not know, I think you ought to like the oval, and you do well on them or you do not.
Q: And apparently you love the oval.
Dixon: Yes, definitely. Now I do.
Q: Welcome to the league and congratulations.
Dixon: Thank you very much.
Q: I was looking through your bio and it said your nickname is 'The Phantom.' Where did that come from?
Dixon: I have had that question a lot in the last few days. It came from PacWest. Actually the PR guy there, Crusher, when I first started there in Indy Lights my first year, and I just was never around the shop very often. So he kind of had the fun, occasionally, so he named me The Phantom.
Q: I thought maybe it was because you were running away from the cars. What about Phoenix now? What are your thoughts about Phoenix and the tight kind of race in the first turn there, and what you have learned about it?
Dixon: Phoenix has always been a great place to test. I have done plenty of tests there in CART and actually this year in IRL, so it is a nice circuit just because it is a little different. It is a pretty tight track. You get to drive the car a little more. I think that is better for a driver. I think that race is going to be pretty hard. I think the two hardest races for the year are Homestead and Phoenix just in the way of the circuits and getting setups and things like that. I am looking forward to it. I cannot actually wait for the next race and hopefully do as well as Homestead.
Q: How about the heat? How does that affect the car?
Dixon: The heat basically seemed to affect the tires more than anything. It was very hot out there. I noticed it a little more actually this year in the car. I do not know whether this car does not respond as well or something. But generally it just makes the tires go off quicker, but then your out laps are faster as well because the tires are easy to get up to temperature. But definitely over the long runs you can feel that your loss of grip.
Q: Scott, looking back at your race, early in the event it was your teammate, Tomas Scheckter, who was making his way toward the front of the field. You kind of followed him through the pack. How do yours and Tomas' team interact during the race or do they?
Dixon: Not really at all. During the race, we came up pretty even on the plotter and things like setups and stuff. We like the car a little different, it seems. We try to keep it as open as possible, but during the race it is pretty hard to tie things up or get him to help or vice versa. So I guess in the racing aspect we do not work together as much.
Q: Scott, it says that both your mother and father were race drivers. What kind of cars did they drive, and how young were you when you were introduced to racing?
Dixon: Dad actually did more racing before he met my mother actually, just like in the saloon and midgets days. It is like road racing and minis. He did a lot of kart stuff and some rally occasionally, and then we were living in Australia and they actually owned a speedway, like a dirt track in Townsville.
Q: Where is that in Australia?
Dixon: It is Queensland. And that was pretty much where I was born and so basically through my whole life I have been in racing in some way or form, whether it is just being my parents. I did not actually start racing go-karts until I was 7, when we moved to New Zealand.
Q: And what did your mother drive?
Dixon: She did some of the dirt racing with my dad when they owned the speedway in Townsville. They had some sort of class there where most of the time I think my mom was the passenger. I do not know how it worked. I think she was probably braver doing that with my father than actually driving the thing.
Q: What was most surprising thing about to you Sunday about winning that race?
Dixon: We knew that this was going to be the hardest circuit and then, you know, qualifying we were disappointed, obviously. Once we started going through the pack and once we got onto the Penskes, I pretty much knew that we had car that could win the race, and that was probably the most surprising part was about that.
Q: And what have you learned about Chip Ganassi in the time you have been with him?
Dixon: He is a good guy. I have not had a fallout with him yet, which I think is surprising to most people. We get along pretty well. A lot of people say different things about Chip, but so far I can only have good words to say about the guy. That should help the relationship a little more.
Q: This must make you feel pretty good about the start of the season. Are you brave enough to make some predictions about the rest of the year?
Dixon: Sure. We set goals at the start of the year, and what we wanted to do was go for the championship. I think the team is very good this year. Obviously, last year was a little harder with how everything turned out for myself. But I think we can win many more races this year. I just think we have a good package. We are going to really shine I think at the '500' as well. So that would be definitely one race that the team will be charging for.
Q: When in the race did you feel like that this probably was going to be your race? At what point?
Dixon: I think it was probably when we got up to Penske cars. When we first passed Helio and then we could sort of see how good the car was in long runs and sort of from watching ahead and seeing that Gil was not so good in traffic, I think if we did not get him in the pits like we did I think we would have been able to get him in traffic. Toward the middle, around halfway of the race, I sort of knew that we had a winner.
Q: I believe you came over from CART and raced some over there. Can you give us kind of the feeling with now the chassis this year, the '03 chassis in the IndyCar Series? What is the difference between the two coming from the aspect of a driver?
Dixon: The cars you know, when you look at it as basic, there is not a whole lot of difference. The horsepower is a little less, the cars have more grip in the IRL, and I think that is why we have a bit of racing, especially on the ovals. At least when you get behind cars, you do not get so much disturbance in the air like CART did. I think mainly because of their rear wing, where this one does not have a big sort of block on the back of it. That helps a lot. But you adjust the horsepower and the grip is a little different. The cars maybe are not as advanced as CART, but it is a good, basic race car.
Johnson: Scott, one final thought here. You have a win under your belt in your first race in the IndyCar Series, you are going out to track you have tested on thus far in the spring. What are your thoughts and goals heading into the Phoenix race on March 23rd?
Dixon: I think we have a lot of work here at Team Target to do before the race in Phoenix. We have been struggling a little with time, just with the G Force sometimes not being as competitive as we would have liked. I think we would have to do a lot of in-house stuff to the car. This will give the guys a little bit of time to catch up. We are not going to do any testing as a lot of teams are doing some testing in Phoenix this week, but we have decided not to do that. It is a great way to start the year, and hopefully we can get on a roll. I think our car worked very well in Phoenix. In the Test in the West, we finished up second. So I think even for qualifying we have a better chance of getting up a little higher, and we will just pushing up.
Johnson: Scott, we appreciate you joining us today. Great job this past weekend, and we certainly wish you the best of luck on March 23rd at Phoenix International Raceway.
Dixon: Thank you very much.