IndyCar Champion Dixon Says He’s Ready To Represent

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 21 2013

Scott Dixon shows some emotion after winning the 2013 championship at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Unaccustomed as he is to public speaking, Scott Dixon says he is ready to represent the IndyCar Series as its reigning and three-time driver’s champion.

“Absolutely. I’m not saying I don’t enjoy doing that stuff,” said Dixon, who clinched the 2013 title with a fifth-place finish in the season-ending MAVTV 500 Saturday night. “I think I have evolved as a person in a lot of ways from the 2003 championship. I do understand it’s very important for the sport, it’s very important for this sport especially that’s striving and pushing to get back, to be out there and be in the spotlight. I think IndyCar is hopefully on the right track for making that happen as well.”

Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing were among series competitors recognized Sunday during the INDYCAR Championship Celebration at the Globe Theatre at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR, presented Dixon and team-owner Chip Ganassi with a $1-million championship bonus check and replicas of the Astor Challenge Cup, the IZOD IndyCar Series championship trophy.

“It still feels surreal because it was such an up-and-down year,” said Dixon, who finished 27 points ahead of Helio Castroneves of Team Penske after 250 laps around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. “I think the other times, getting so close, you feel like you’re never going to get there again. To go through the trials and tribulations of the year and for the team to pull through and try to get back to the top and win, this one feels pretty special and very different from the other two we’ve won.”

Dixon has won his titles in five-year intervals – 2003, 2008 and 2013. “Hope he doesn’t lay me off for four years,” Dixon joked, referring to Ganassi. “The five-year thing, I think it’s just a coincidence. We’ve come close many times. I think since ’06 we’ve had a great shot at winning this championship and we’ve come up short a few times. Lucky enough for our team that Dario (Franchitti) took three of those. Some I was in contention, one or two I wasn’t.

“It’s a special team. They dig deep. Chip is a hell of a guy, hell of a competitor. You don’t see that all the time in team owners. It can get quite political, things like that.

“I know in the early years I was lucky with contracts. I think I breezed through some situations where I was still hired. Then we fought through and took it when we needed to. It’s nice to know we’ve been in the hunt plenty of times.”

Dixon joined four-time series champion/Target teammate Franchitti and three-time champ Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske as the only multiple title-winners under INDYCAR sanction. Dixon also is the 12th

Scott Dixon will spend the offseason as INDYCAR's No. 1 ambassador. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

driver in Indy car history to win three or more championships, joining Franchitti, Hornish, Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, A.J. Foyt Jr., Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Louis Meyer, Ted Horn, Jimmy Bryan and Al Unser.

Dixon reiterated that he has grown as a person during the last 10 years and will hit the rubber chicken circuit this offseason on behalf of domestic open-wheel racing.

“Yeah, I do feel I’m up for that task,” said Dixon, a 33-year-old native of New Zealand. “Is that my strong point? Maybe not. Is that something that Helio or maybe some other driver may be a little bit better at? Maybe. First and foremost for me it’s about being a competitor, being the best I can as a driver, going out there and wanting to win. Then it’s very important to make sure that IndyCar gets the recognition that it deserves, that it is one of the toughest sports in motor racing, it is at the elite level, and the competition is extremely tough. I’m excited for all that.”

In addition to the championship bonus, Dixon accepted the Jostens Champions Award, a ring valued at $10,000.

Ricky Davis, chief mechanic for Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda, accepted the IZOD IndyCar Series Chief Mechanic of the Year Award. Scott Harner and Barry Wanser of Target Chip Ganassi Racing accepted the Team Manager of the Year Award.

For Team Penske’s Will Power, revenge was watching Ed Carpenter in his rear-view mirrors as the checkered flag fell on the 2013 MAVTV 500.

Will Power had a lot of motivation in the season-ending race at Fontana. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

Pole-sitter/race-winner Power finished 1.4883-seconds ahead of Carpenter and his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/ECR Dallara/Chevrolet Saturday night. But recall that Power’s bid for the 2012 IndyCar Series driver’s title ended 55 laps into the Fontana finale when his car caught a seam in Turn 2 of the D-shaped, 2-mile oval, spun and made contact with the SAFER Barrier while running 12th. That opened the door for Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport to clinch his first title by three points. Power began the race with a 17-point lead over RHR.

Meanwhile, Carpenter posted his second career series win and first as an owner/driver. During his post-race remarks, Carpenter delivered a comment that pushed Power to what he described as “my best win ever, that’s for sure” and third of 2013 in his No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet.

“The incentive?” Power said, rhetorically, during his post-race news conference. “The incentive was Ed Carpenter said that Will Power did exactly what everyone expected him to do at the last race last year. I thought that was just such motivation for me to beat him and win at this track and just be good at ovals. I went about it. I thought I’m going to beat Ed.

“Ed, I really respect him. A very good, fast, clean oval racer. Always good to race. I don’t dislike him but I told him, I said, ‘Man, your comment last year gave me a lot of motivation.’ It’s true. So, yes, that’s right. I like Ed. He’s very good. He’s quick. But that comment definitely got to me in a good way. That’s how I work. I like people to say bad things. It makes me really go. If everybody is like, ‘He’s great,’ I hate that. ‘This guy sucks…’

“I just went about the business very methodically. My aim this year for the ovals was to finish every one and just build confidence. That’s been the problem in the past, I haven’t finished. Getting hit in the pits, this or that. You don’t get experience. This year I got maximum experience, finished every single lap. Got what I needed to get. Worked out.”

As Power’s interview session wound down, he was asked if had sobered-up yet.

“What are you talking about? I’m high on life,” Power joked. “Finally finished a season in a good way.”

Will Power’s victory helped Chevrolet secure its second consecutive IndyCar Series Manufacturer’s Championship over Honda. Chevrolet and Honda Performance Development had entered the season-finale tied with nine race wins each.

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, said he was “definitely supportive” of having another engine supplier join the series.

“When we were in Houston, I think I mentioned through our IndyCar contract, when there’s two manufacturers, each manufacturer has to handle up to 60 percent of the field,” Campbell said. “That’s our contract obligation. When there’s three, it drops to 40 percent. Clearly the more manufacturers in, you basically handle a smaller portion of the field.

“In the end it’s more about the competition. We do not like to run in spec series. We’re not interested in it. We like to race against somebody because it’s meaningful, it creates innovation, it pushes you to be better every week, every race, every year. So we love racing against competition. We do it here and every series we’re in. If we get to a series where there’s no competition, we’re probably looking for the exit ramp. We have to race against competition.

“We’d love to see competition come in. We have a few neighbors in our City of Detroit, surrounding area, that we would like to have them considered. But any manufacturer around the world, we’d love to see them come in.”

Power said Chevrolet’s power train engineers at General Motors partners Ilmor and Pratt & Miller improved the twin-turbocharged V6 with every upgrade during the past two years. “With Honda going twin-turbo next year, I expect a pretty tough fight,” Power said.

A doubleheader weekend in Toronto currently is the only IndyCar Series event confirmed to be run outside the United States in 2014. A spring race conducted on the Streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, was left off

.Scott Dixon would love to see an IndyCar race run in New Zealand. It would give him a free trip home. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

the 18-race schedule announced Friday, although officials indicated the South American venue could be added in the offseason.

During his post-race news conference Saturday night, Dixon was asked about the possibility of the series racing in his native New Zealand. “Yes, I think they should have a race in New Zealand,” Dixon said.”I’m sure everyone in here would like to go to New Zealand. I’d get a free trip home to see my family. That would be even better.

“But motor racing, the heritage is very strong in New Zealand. People like that, Kiwis, such a small place. Four million people, now 30 million sheep. My idea of 15 million sheep has multiplied.”

In typical fashion, Dixon downplayed comparisons between himself and New Zealand motorsports heroes Denny Hulme and Bruce McLaren as presented in an article in the French publication “L’Equipe.”

“The Denny Hulme, Bruce McLaren thing – to me, they’re still real legends,” Dixon said. “We all know what Bruce has done and the same with Denny. For me it was an era that I wasn’t around.

“McLaren, the team has gone through some major changes throughout the years, but the founder was still Bruce. For someone like him to turn up and make a team, be able to go out there, build his own cars, win (Formula One) Grand Prixs – those days are long gone. The series are totally different from what those guys witnessed. I like to say they were the real men of the sport back then. Everybody admires what they’ve achieved and done.

“I guess my answer to that is I’d find that (comparison) hard to believe.”

Target Chip Ganassi Racing added to its championship legacy with Scott Dixon’s latest title, the fifth for the organization in six years – 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. The title also is TCGR’s 10th in Indy car competition – 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013. And finally, the title is the 17th overall for Chip Ganassi Racing teams – 10 in Indy car and seven in the Rolex Grand-Am Sports Car Series.

Mike Hull, managing director of TCGR since 1996, said that success dates to the tenure of former director Tom Anderson. “Tom was working for Chip when I came onboard,” Hull said. “He laid a great foundation.

Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull give Scott Dixon a hand as he accepts the Astor Challenge Cup.

I was able to work with Tom for a long time. We worked hard to craft a culture that could race over the long-term, not the short-term.

“When we started, Penske Racing, clearly in my estimation, Newman/Haas Racing (were the measuring sticks), but Penske Racing still to this day is the best team in motor racing. To compete against those guys, for me to compete head-to-head with Roger – have him come over as the checkered flag was falling (Saturday night) and say, ‘Congratulations’ – for me, you don’t know how much that means. I’m happy that we’ve been in the position that we’re in, and I never thought it would be possible for me to ever work in motor racing and do over a long period of time what we’ve done.”

Teen-ager Sage Karam clinched his first Firestone Indy Lights championship and seventh for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with a third-place finish in the Lefty’s Kids Club 100 at Auto Club Speedway Saturday night. Displaying patience beyond his 18 years, not even a grid penalty could upset Karam’s plan for the 50-lap race.

Carlos Munoz, driving the No. 26 Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport, won his fourth race of the season, holding off Gabby Chaves by 0.9966-seconds. Karam was 3.7-seconds behind.

Karam, who started at the rear of the field, moved to third early en route to securing the title by 11 points over his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate. Karam entered the race with a 16-point advantage.

“I was crying on that last lap, just to know the dream is almost in reach and to be in the IndyCar Series racing with my heroes,” Karam said. “This season started out OK and it went really bad in the middle. We bounced back somehow and we’re champions now. The team just put together an awesome car week-in, week-out. I can’t thank them enough.”

It was the first season in Firestone Indy Lights for Karam, who placed one spot behind Chaves in the 2012 Star Mazda Championship. Chaves, 20, of Weston, Fla., earned a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in early August and placed among the top-five in 11 of 12 races. He closed the season with seven consecutive podium finishes.

“It’s disappointing. We fight with our hearts every time and sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. Today wasn’t my way,” Chaves said. “I did everything that I could. I knew I had to lead the most laps and tried to go around Carlos many times. I couldn’t do it. Great job to the team, to Sam (Schmidt) and thank you to everyone who has helped me.”

Munoz, who also won the 2012 Firestone Indy Lights race at Auto Club Speedway, moved to third in the final standings. Zach Veach, who earlier in the day re-signed with Andretti Autosport for 2014, finished fourth.

On Sunday, Karam accepted the mini Firestone Firehawk Cup, the Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year, a Jostens Champions Award valued at $5,000 and an original artwork piece by motorsports artist Jim Swintal commissioned by Firestone.

“When I woke up this morning it really hit me. I was like, ‘Wow, we did it!’^” Karam said. “The season went well and we had an awesome time and I learned a lot. We had some bad luck, but turned it around and came out on top. I love my team at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. They do an awesome job and it’s an incredible team to be part of.”

Munoz received the $3,000 “Securing Tomorrow Award” from Gregory & Appel Insurance for winning the most races, while Peter Dempsey was named winner of the Greg Moore Legacy Award.

Derrick Stepan, chief mechanic for Karam’s No. 8 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb Agajanian entry, accepted the Firestone Indy Lights Chief Mechanic of the Year Award.

The Mazda Road to Indy also presented Matthew Brabham, champion of the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tiers, and Scott Hargrove, champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, with Jostens Champions Awards valued at $4,000.

2013 IZOD IndyCar Series award winners

Championship driver (Astor Challenge Cup): Scott Dixon

Jostens Championship Driver Award (ring): Scott Dixon

Championship team (Astor Challenge Cup): Target Chip Ganassi Racing

Championship team sponsors: Target

Championship team managers: Scott Harner and Barry Wanser

Chief Mechanic of the Year Award: Ricky Davis

Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award ($50,000): Tristan Vautier

Second-place championship driver: Helio Castroneves

Second-place championship team: Team Penske

Third-place championship driver: Simon Pagenaud

Third-place championship team: Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports

Tony Renna Rising Star Award: Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

Verizon P1 Award: Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

Manufacturers Championship: Chevrolet

2013 Firestone Indy Lights award winners

Championship driver (mini Firehawk Cup): Sage Karam

Jostens Championship Driver Award (ring): Sage Karam

Championship team (mini Firehawk Cup): Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb Agajanian

Chief Mechanic of the Year: Derrick Stepan

Firestone Indy Lights Rookie of the Year ($15,000): Sage Karam

Greg Moore Legacy Award: Peter Dempsey

Gregory & Appel “Securing Tomorrow” Award ($3,000): Carlos Munoz

Mazda Road to Indy award winners: Jostens Championship Driver Award (ring): Matthew Brabham (Pro Mazda Championship); Scott Hargrove (USF2000 Championship).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 21 2013
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