Scott Dixon Has His Eyes On The Roads

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 17 2010

Scott Dixon and his team are looking for their first road course victory of the season this weekend in Long Beach. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

You have to wonder: Did Scott Dixon pump his fist or shake his head when the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series Schedule came out?

Common sense would lead you to think he did the former, but a look at last year’s results might lead you to believe the latter.

During a telephone call last week, Dixon, as per his image of being cool and calculating, indicated he did neither.

“Yeah,” he mono-toned, “I think we just need to focus more on the road races.”

Dixon is road-racer. First love and continuing love. It started before he could see over steering wheels in his native Australia and continued up through the formula series and finally into the defunct CART series.

His biggest concerned when his boss, Chip Ganassi, decided to leave CART and join the IndyCar Series back in 2003 was; too many ovals.

Not that he’s not good on the round tracks. He won his IndyCar debut, which was on the Homestead Miami oval. And Dixon won two more races that year – at Pikes Peak and Richmond; oval and oval – en route to winning the series championship.

But affection for road and street courses just cannot be drained from a driver like Dixon’s blood stream.

Hence the excitement – in Dixon’s case that probably meant a smile – when he saw that the 2010 season would open with four straight road races, No. 4 of which is this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Tempering that excitement – which in Dixon’s case probably means a lazy disappearance of the smile – is the fact that last year’s schedule started with back-to-back road races and he emerged from them with 16th-place (St. Petersburg) and 15th-place (Long Beach) finishes because of on-track contact.

Dixon shrugged.

“Last year, we gained more points on the ovals,” Dixon said. “But at certain (road) races, we had dominant cars, like Mid-Ohio and Watkins we had great cars.”

The problem last year in the first two races was arch-rival Team Penske. Not because the Penske cars were faster during the race, but because they were more dangerous.

“At St. Pete last year we were having a great race and Will (Power) stopped in my pit,” Dixon said. “We were running third or fourth and that put us back to 18th or 19th in the sequence. At Long Beach, we were running fifth and then (Ryan) Briscoe took out out under yellow and put us, of course, a lap down.”

Dixon said his team also struggled a bit with the move to red and black tires. It took time to develop feel and strategy with them.

This year, the year of the road-raced-packed early season, he is fifth in points after finishes of sixth (Sao Paulo), 18th because of contact (St. Pete) and second (Birmingham).

Not bad, but not what most people would expect from a Target Chip Ganassi driver who savors road races the way the grandmas savor early bird buffets.

A big problem, Dixon said, has been Saturdays. He has had qualifying efforts of seventh, third and fifth an on road courses and especially street courses, being on the front row is key.

“For me, the focus this year has been purely qualify better on the street courses and get better results” Dixon said. “The first two races last year, coming out of St. Pete and Long Beach, we were like 18th in points with the mistakes that we made and some bad situations during the race and that definitely hurt for the championship.

“This year, with four straight up and half the championship being road and street courses, we’ve got to focus on them just as much.”

If Dixon is going to get an early season road win, it will have to come at one of his favorite street courses – Long Beach.

Like almost everybody who races in this venerable old event, Dixon loves the dash through the streets of that scenic coastal city.

Loves the atmosphere and even likes the course itself.

“Iconic,” is how Dixon described Long Beach.

“It’s much different and it’s a much different vibe, too,” he said. “You look at Watkins Glen or Elkhart (Lake in Wisconsin) when I used to race there, you see more of the vintage people come out for those races because of the history. And then the street courses, because you are in downtown situations, with a lot going on with bands playing and things, you get more of a younger sort of vibe. That goes back to the mix. You need all of them. You attract different kind of fans at every race.”

From Long Beach, the series moves to its most important stretch of oval races with four straight at Kansas Speedway, Indianapolis, Texas Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway.

That’s OK with road-race loving Dixon as he now has two loves. But, he sure would like to head into that stretch with a road victory and on Sunday, he gets his last chance at that.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 17 2010
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