Dixon Wins His Third IndyCar Series Crown

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 19 2013

Scott Dixon, 2013 IndyCar Series champion. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

When he clinched his third IZOD IndyCar Series championship within 10 years Saturday night, Scott Dixon joined a short list of domestic open-wheel drivers who clearly can be defined as “elite.”

At Target Chip Ganassi Racing, however, the adjective used to describe a driver like Dixon is “hardcore” – as in no-nonsense, under-valued and under-appreciated.

Perhaps that notion is finally about to change.

“You know what, I think so. I think that means a lot,” team-owner Chip Ganassi said late Saturday night, after Dixon’s fifth-place finish in the season-ending MAVTV 500 secured the 2013 driver’s title. “The people within this community I think know what a talent he is, his number of wins, wins among active drivers, all that. All those stats are up there. I don’t know them off the top of my head. But obviously this establishes him certainly I think.

“You know, his championships – 2003, 2008, 2013 – they didn’t come like bang, bang, bang, right in a row. That shows you what a tenacious guy he is. He hangs in there.”

Dixon survived an attrition-filled, 250-lapper around the D-shaped, 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to post his 10th top-five result in 19 races and a final 27-point advantage (577-550) over championship rival Helio Castroneves of Team Penske. Castroneves, who began the weekend 25 points behind Dixon, placed sixth and one lap-down to winner/Penske teammate Will Power after having to pit to replace a broken front wing on Lap 226.

“It was a crazy day,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. “Just huge credit to Team Target. They played everything straight. We had to work on a bit of strategy, we had to work on the car a lot, and then we had an issue with some overheating problems toward the end. I still can’t believe we’ve won the championship. So many people to thank and it’s just unbelievable.”

Dixon presented Ganassi and Mike Hull, TCGR’s managing director, the organization’s 10th open-wheel championship and ninth with Honda power. Dixon won his first title in 2003 with Toyota power.

Target teammate Dario Franchitti (four), former Penske ace Sam Hornish Jr. (three) and Dixon are the only drivers to score multiple IndyCar Series championships.

“When you’ve won a couple, they’re all very different,” said Dixon, a 33-year-old native of New Zealand. “The first one, I think I was young, just didn’t really understand what I had won. Was the first year in the series with the team. My perspective when I was 22 or 23 of what I actually did to what I understand now is totally different. I think the competitiveness of the series has gone through the roof since the merger (with the Champ Car World Series) in ’08.

“2008 was a dream year. Got married, won the Indy 500 and the championship. Pretty hard to beat that.

“This year I think has been far different just in the fact mid-season we didn’t think we had a shot at the championship. It’s funny how it turned out to be us fighting it out (with Castroneves) in the last few races. I feel for Helio. He ran a strong year. He’s a hell of a competitor. He’s a high-energy person. I’ve been in that situation before, and it sucks. I want to thank him for having a great race tonight and keeping it clean, pushing as hard as he could.

“But, yeah, I think tonight’s race sums up how our year was. It was very up-and-down. In the end we came out on top, so that’s the important part.”

In typical fashion, Dixon declined to compare himself to either his championship teammate from Scotland or to Ohio favorite son Hornish.

“Recently I’ve spoken out more than I used to,” said Dixon, especially about issues concerning driver safety. “It hasn’t been on stats or results. I think I’m kind of one of those people that once it’s said and done, I’m done with racing, I can look back and say, ‘Hey, we achieved this, I achieved this.’ That’s the time for that. For me right now, I love racing. I want to race. Whether it’s IndyCar stuff, sports car stuff that the team does, I love being at a track. I love waking up thinking about it, train for it, do all that kind of stuff.”

Castroneves’ failed bid for his first series title capped a frustrating end to a season that began to unravel with a disastrous doubleheader weekend on the temporary street circuit at Reliant Park in Houston Oct. 5-6. Mechanical issues doomed Castroneves to finishes of 18th and 23rd within 24 hours, results that saw a 49-point lead turn into a 25-point deficit.

While that 74-point swing proved too much to overcome during one Southern California night, Castroneves remained gracious in defeat. “It was a great championship,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Auto Club Dallara/Chevrolet. “We did everything we could in our side to bring home the championship. Unfortunately we didn’t finish the position we wanted. But I tell you what, I had a great time. It was awesome. I went for it. I was driving my heart out out there. I was pushing to the limit. The AAA boys did a great job, too.

“It’s a shame that we end up having contact with the No. 83 (of Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball), breaking our front wing. But I knew it would be very hard-fought with those guys. My only chance was to be aggressive, and that’s what we did.”

Castroneves assumed the point lead after his lone victory of the season in the annual June night race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and held it until his season-worst 23rd-place finish on the mean streets of Houston.

“I can’t take for granted the season we had,” said Castroneves, a 38-year-old native of Brazil who also finished as championship runnerup to Sudden Sam by 20 points in 2002 and to Dixie by 17 points in 2008. “Yes, so close, so far. But, you know, I would say a lot of little things. I didn’t win, so basically if I lose by one point or two points, that would be hard to swallow.

“In the end of the day, you can’t take the credit from the Ganassi guys and Scott. One weekend unfortunately for us cost a lot of points. Unfortunately it was nobody’s prediction. We did everything we could to avoid any kind of mechanical failure. The only time we had a mechanical failure in the whole season, that’s what cost the season.

“We can’t look back. We just got to continue working hard. This is part of racing. That’s why I’m taking it OK. I’m ready to come back actually next year and start all over again.”

Power lost the 2012 championship for himself and team-owner Roger Penske to Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport by three points last September at Fontana. Saturday night, the Australian won his third race of the season by 1.4883-seconds over 2012 event-winner Ed Carpenter, the owner/driver who earned his first podium finish of the season. The win was the 21st of Power’s IndyCar career.

“That is the most satisfying win of my life,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevy and the series championship runnerup in 2010, 2011 and 2012. “I was so determined to win. I went backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards, but eventually went forwards to win it. Very, very happy. Verizon, Chevy, everything. For what happened last year, I had this race in my mind all year. I had the ovals especially in mind, to do a very good, solid job. That’s exactly what happened.”

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan, the 2004 series champ, finished third in his final start for KV Racing Technology before moving to Ganassi Racing for the 2014 season. James Hinchcliffe, a three-time race-winner this season who earlier in the day re-signed with Andretti Autosport for 2014, finished fourth.

Dale Coyne Racing’s Justin Wilson, who was involved in a multi-car accident on Lap 111, suffered non-operable pelvic fractures and a small pulmonary contusion. Wilson was kept overnight at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center for further observation.

Additionally, Chevrolet secured its second consecutive Manufacturer’s Championship over a Honda camp that instead celebrated Dixon’s title.

“This one’s pretty special,” said Ganassi, who will swap engine partners from Honda to Chevy beginning next season. “I have to say, because of certainly how our season started out. The fact that Scott Dixon did it. We had a tough, tough beginning of the season. We had a tough Indy 500. We had a tough mid-season. Obviously, Honda turned around at Pocono.

“Ups-and-downs all season. Losing my father (Floyd) at one point. That death, it took a lot of wind out of my sails. I’m sure he’s up there smiling down on us right now. He was a big part of my career and my life. He and I really got to know each other through racing. You always see people in positions like this saying, ‘I wish my mom or dad were here.’ I know what that feels like here. He was a great guy. Wish he was here.

“The guys on this team, the guy to my right (Hull), never, never, never gave up. These guys don’t know the word ‘give up.’ They don’t know how to give up. They hung in there, hung in there, hung in there. Tonight for 250 laps Dixon, Mike Hull, those guys on that No. 9 car team never quit.”

Hull, the team’s managing director since 1996, said that attitude has been the hallmark of the culture at Ganassi Racing. “Statistically, we don’t think too much about that, to be honest,” said Hull, who has led the organization to four Championship Auto Racing Teams titles and six sanctioned by INDYCAR. ”We think about it maybe as validation of what we do, whether it be an individual race or a championship at the end of the year.

“We work for every day of the week, race day _ in this case race night. This today is why we’re here. This is what we want to do. This is what we’ve chosen to do. It’s just so much fun to be able to do it as a group of people, as a team of people. It (the championship) was a testament to Honda, to Chip Ganassi Racing, and testament to a hardcore guy, Scott Dixon.”

Results Saturday of the MAVTV 500 IZOD IndyCar Series season-finale on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

1. (1) Will Power, Dallara/Chevy, 250, Running

2. (7) Ed Carpenter, Dallara/Chevy, 250, Running

3. (9) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Chevy, 250, Running

4. (8) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Chevy, 250, Running

5. (17) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 250, Running

6. (12) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevy, 249, Running

7. (6) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Chevy, 248, Running

8. (16) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara/Chevy, 247, Running

9. (11) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Chevy, 242, Running

10. (4) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, 238, Mechanical

11. (15) J.R. Hildebrand, Dallara/Honda, 237, Mechanical

12. (3) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara/Chevy, 229, Contact

13. (13) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Honda, 217, Mechanical

14. (21) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 209, Contact

15. (22) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 200, Mechanical

16. (2) A.J. Allmendinger, Dallara/Chevy, 188, Contact

17. (25) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, 144, Mechanical

18. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, 110, Contact

19. (14) Oriol Servia, Dallara/Chevy, 110, Contact

20. (20) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Honda, 110, Contact

21. (23) Tristan Vautier, Dallara/Honda, 110, Contact

22. (5) James Jakes, Dallara/Honda, 110, Contact

23. (10) Carlos Munoz, Dallara/Chevy, 100, Contact

24. (24) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara/Chevy, 69, Contact

25. (19) Pippa Mann, Dallara/Honda, 68, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 154.867 mph. Time of Race: 03:13:42.8699-seconds.Margin of victory: 1.4883-seconds. Cautions: 7 for 55 laps. Lead changes: 28 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Power 1 – 11, Bourdais 12 – 31, Hunter-Reay 32 – 34, Power 35 – 38, Jakes 39, Hunter-Reay 40 – 81, Castroneves 82, Andretti 83 – 84,Castroneves 85 – 86, Kanaan 87 – 89, Bourdais 90 – 102, Castroneves 103 – 126, Tagliani 127 – 128, Bourdais 129, Tagliani 130 – 131, Andretti 132, Tagliani 133, Power 134 – 160, Kimball 161 – 163, Power 164 – 193,Carpenter 194, Dixon 195 – 198, Power 199 – 215, Kimball 216, Dixon 217, Kimball 218 – 227, Bourdais 228, Kimball 229 – 236, Power 237 – 250.

Point Standings: Dixon 577, Castroneves 550, Pagenaud 508, Power 499, Andretti 484, Wilson 472, Hunter-Reay 469, Hinchcliffe 449, Kimball 427, Dario Franchitti 418.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 19 2013
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