Dixon Still Pushing Right Button For Ganassi

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 10 2016
Scott Dixon refuses to slow down behind the wheel of Chip Ganassi Indycars. Racing this weekend moves to Texas. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

Scott Dixon refuses to slow down behind the wheel of Chip Ganassi Indycars. Racing this weekend moves to Texas. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Team-owner Chip Ganassi once famously remarked that he would hire a Martian to drive any of his race cars if he/she/it could “push the button.”

That’s exactly what Scott Dixon _ proud citizen of New Zealand, Mother Earth _ has been doing for bugindycar15 stellar seasons at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The longest-tenured driver in team history, Dixon will begin the second half of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night fully focused on what would be a career-defining fifth driver’s championship.

Dixon moved from third to second in the championship standings, 80 points behind leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, following a fifth-place finish in last Sunday’s second Chevrolet Dual in Detroit. As defending champion of the Firestone 600 (7:45 p.m., CDT, NBC Sports Network), Dixon and veteran strategist Mike Hull have eight races to catch and overtake Penske’s French phenom.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling that we’re still second in points,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 TCGR Chevrolet. “We overheated in St. Petersburg, which should have been a podium (finished seventh); Long Beach, had a (pit exit)snafu with Pagenaud and that could have been another victory (finished second by an event-record 0.3032-seconds); Barber (Motorsports Park) we got taken out first lap and went to the back of the field (finished 10th); Indy both races _ in the Grand Prix we broke a front wing early and had no balance (finished seventh) and in the Indy 500, I hit the wall on Lap 70 and bent the car (finished eighth).”

In between those results, Dixon led 155 of 250 laps in the series’ return to the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway en route to his 39th career victory _ most among active series drivers and tied for fourth on the all-time list with four-time Indy 500 champion Al Unser Sr. Dixon now has won a race for the 12th consecutive season, breaking a tie with Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi and Helio Castroneves. It was the first win for Dixon and any Ganassi team at PIR, and the organization’s 101st Indy car victory.

“Detroit was a complete mess,” said Dixon, who finished a season-low 19th (electrical) in the first

Scott Dixon will start the race in Texas second in the point standings.

Scott Dixon will start the race in Texas second in the point standings.

Dual and a respectable fifth in the second around the rough, 2.35-mile street circuit on Belle Isle Park. ”It’s been a strange year so far and I think my comments are that we need to act out and make sure we’re not giving points away. A team like us shouldn’t be having those issues. Maybe I need to stop making some mistakes to have a definite shot. But a team of this caliber, we should be doing a better job right now.”

TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval looms as the perfect venue for Dixon to begin one of his patented second-half surges. Teams will have one 75-minute practice before qualifying in the heat at 3:15 p.m. (CDT). A final half-hour practice at 6:45 p.m. will replicate conditions expected Saturday night for the 248-lap/372-miler.

Dixon had the field covered in “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race” last June, leading 97 of 248 laps in the fastest open-wheel race in the track’s 19-year history. Dixon’s winning average speed of 191.940 mph smashed the previous mark of 185.719 mph set by Team Penske’s Castroneves in 2006. Dixon’s margin of victory over Target teammate Tony Kanaan was a comfortable 7.8-seconds.

Saturday’s race, however, will be run with all Chevrolet and Honda–powered cars fitted with INDYCAR’s latest superspeedway safety enhancements _ domed-skid plates and rear wing beam flips. Domed skids, which run the full underbelly of the Dallara DW12 chassis, are designed to create additional downforce and reduce the chances of a car becoming airborne in the event of a high-speed slide or spin.

Domed skids hardly were mentioned during the Month of May at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the device was originally tested in April. That was followed by a second test at TMS on May 10, when the ambient temperature was in the mid-70s.

“There was a lot of hype generated by Honda when we started testing, especially at Indy and then Texas,” said Dixon, who led 58 laps en route to winning the 2008 edition of the Texas race.”I think it’s the same for everybody _ they raised the cars nine or 10 millimeters  so you need to get more mechanical (grip) back. And INDYCAR provided more downforce to cover what was lost. It’s not an effective way for us to race but if you look at the safety aspect…all the questions from Indy (2015) were answered, a huge credit to INDYCAR for their safety team. We had no crazy accidents at Indy.

“Texas is kind of hard (to figure) because we tested and it was a funny day because track temps will be warmer (ambient temps in the mid-90s) this weekend. Straight-up, last year the rules made it like it was and we had the class of the field. We were the only ones that ran the max downforce allowed. A lot of the field thought they could run trimmed-out, and we were kind of astonished they didn’t run a similar package to what we did _ and it worked out extremely well for us.”

So has Dixon’s tenure with “The Chipster,” a relationship that has produced IndyCar Series championships in 2003, 2008, 2013 and last season. Only 13 drivers have won three or more season championships in domestic open-wheel history dating to 1909. Native Texan and open-wheel icon A.J. Foyt Jr. is the all-time leader with seven titles between 1960 and 1979. Four drivers have won four crowns _ Mario Andretti, Sebastian Bourdais, former Target teammate Dario Franchitti and Dixon.

As he begins his “Drive for Five,” Dixon said there is no real secret to his successful run with the colorful Ganassi. “I love that he’s probably the most competitive person I’ve met, and in racing that’s a big compliment,” said Dixon, a 35-year-old native of Australia who is a citizen of New Zealand. “There’s no real BS with him…he always asks, ‘What do we need?’ He wants to win and that’s what it always comes down to. For a driver, that’s the best combination you can have.”

Indeed, Ganassi ‘s world-class roster of drivers have won 11 Indy car championships _ American Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi of Italy (1997-98), Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia (1999), Scotsman Franchitti (2009, 2010, 2011) and “Dixie.”

“I think our personalities work well together,” Dixon said. “I kind of go with the flow and you’ve got to look at the record as a team. I think we’ve done a great job _ four championships, an Indy 500 win (in 2008), tied for fourth on the all-time wins list. I guess what it comes down to is I respect Chip dearly. We both love winning, and it works really well.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, June 10 2016
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