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Dixon Set To Chase Championship No. 7

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 18 2021

Scott Dixon will begin pursuit of back-to-back IndyCar Series championships – and a seventh overall – when he pays a visit to Barber on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Same as it ever was, Scott Dixon will launch his relentless pursuit of the INDYCAR record book Sunday afternoon via the game plan that has marked him as the greatest open-wheel driver of his generation.

“Absolutely. Our two goals _ first to win the Indy 500 and to win the championship _ same every year with Chip Ganassi Racing,” said Dixon, the six-time/reigning NTT IndyCar Series champion. “And I’ve never gone back-to-back (as champion), so that’s something I’ve been trying to conquer for 20-plus years as well.

“Yeah, looking forward to it, man. You know the competition is super-tight, super tough. This year with the addition of some of the rookies and some of the driver combos made during the offseason it could be one of the tougher seasons that we’ve seen.”

Dixon will start the 2021 season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama fifth in a 24-car field led by pole-sitter Pato O’Ward and including seven-time NASCAR Cup champion-turned-INDYCAR rookie Jimmie Johnson.

Dixon finished the COVID-19-impacted season with 50 career victories _ two behind open-wheel icon Mario Andretti on a list topped by the legendary A.J. Foyt, Jr.’s 67. Victories today at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., and on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on April 25 would put Dixon in position to move past Mario during the doubleheader weekend at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on May 1-2. 

It’d be amazing. I feel excited for what we’ve been able to achieve up to this point,” Dixon, 40, said during a phone interview with RacinToday.com. “Obviously, when you’re in this business you’re in the business of winning and you can’t stop short. We’ll definitely be pushing and I’d like to beat the record in Texas.”

Dixon won the COVID-delayed 2020 season-opener on TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval last June 6 and added two consecutive victories en route to his sixth title. That’s one short of tying Foyt’s seven championships won under U.S. Auto Club sanction from 1960-1979.

“I know the likelihood of (repeating) that streak might be a little bit different, though we did that last year,” Dixon said. “It’s been so cool to have Mario and A.J. and the Unsers and all the Andrettis still at the races. I think that’s one of the coolest things and especially for me. I grew up watching these people, the legends of the sport and seeing what they were able to achieve through the vastness of vehicles they drove at that time as well. So, it would mean a huge amount. I’m guessing Mario doesn’t want it to happen, that’s for sure. We’ll have to see how it goes. We’ll keep our head down and if we win races, that’ll take care of it.”

For the record, Dixon has finished on the podium in eight of his 10 previous starts at Barber Motorsports Park _ including six runnerup finishes _ but has yet to place P1.

Dixon toured BMP’s 2.3-mile/17-turn natural terrain road-course in 1 minute, 06.3976-seconds/124.703 mph in his No. 9 Honda during the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session. O’Ward’s lap of 1 minute, 5.8479-seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet earned the native of Mexico his second NTT P1 Award, the first coming last July for the second race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

O’Ward will attempt to earn his first INDYCAR victory during the 90-lap/207-miler, with live coverage starting at 3 p.m. (EDT) on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

“I feel like I have earned my spot in the sport to challenge for podiums and wins,” said O’Ward, who finished fourth as a series rookie in the 2020 point standings. “Man, we’ve been working so hard in the offseason, and we’re clicking. Everyone in the team is working well together, and I knew exactly what I needed to get the time out of the reds (Firestone alternate tires), especially. We just had to maintain pace on blacks (Firestone primary tires) because I thought we were pretty strong.

“We did that, and we’re starting on pole. It feels good. These guys deserve it. We’ve got a race to win (Sunday).”

Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 champion from Andretti Autosport, will start alongside O’Ward after his top lap of 1:05.9177 in the No. 27 Honda. Alex Palou began his tenure with Chip Ganassi Racing by qualifying third at 1:06.0538 in the No. 10 Honda.

Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner and 2014 series champ, will start fourth at 1:06.1186 in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. Marcus Ericsson, third Ganassi driver in the Firestone Fast Six, qualified sixth at 1:06.4102 in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean was the top-qualifying rookie, in seventh, on his 35th birthday. His time of 1:05.7643 in the second round of qualifying fell just short of earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Six in the No. 51 Honda.

The other rookie qualifiers were three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin, 12th in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet, and Johnson, 21st in the No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

O’Ward was quicker during the second 10-minute round of qualifying than the Firestone Fast Six, ripping off a track-record lap of 1:05.5019 to lead his group. A repave of the circuit since the series last competed at Barber in 2019, along with continued development of the Dallara chassis and Firestone tires, helped numerous drivers obliterate the previous record of 1:06.6001/124.324 mph set by Sebastien Bourdais on April 23, 2016.

Palou was quickest during the first practice, while Rossi paced the second session.

Track action starts Sunday at 11:30 a.m. (EDT) with a 30-minute warm-up session, carried live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.

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Qualifying Saturday for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.3-mile/17-turn Barber Motorsports Park, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:05.8479 (125.744 mph)
2. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:05.9177 (125.611)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:06.0538 (125.352)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.1186 (125.230)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.3976 (124.703)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:06.4102 (124.680)
7. (51) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:05.7643 (125.904)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:05.7902 (125.855)
9. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:05.7957 (125.844)
10. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:05.9118 (125.622)
11. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:05.9634 (125.524)
12. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:06.7226 (124.096)
13. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:06.5578 (124.403)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:06.4770 (124.554)
15. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:06.6480 (124.235)
16. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:06.5035 (124.505)
17. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.8512 (123.857)
18. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.8489 (123.861)
19. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.1026 (123.393)
20. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:07.0021 (123.578)
21. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 01:07.7092 (122.288)
22. (7) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:07.0254 (123.535)
23. (4) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 01:07.8100 (122.106)
24. (29) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, No Time (No Speed)

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 18 2021
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