By Josh Farmer, Contributing Journalist
SONOMA, California – Determination, resilience, humility.
Those three words best describe five-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has he hoists yet another Astor Cup. The 38-year-old New Zealander already etched himself into Indy car racing history this year by passing Michael Andretti for third on the all-time win list.
The driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing started second in today’s race at Sonoma Raceway and ran in the tire tracks of race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay the entire day. Championship rival Alexander Rossi overcame a setback on the opening lap when he clipped Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti in the rear.
A yellow allowed Rossi to catch up and claw his way through the field to finish seventh as Dixon never wavered and finished in second place. While the day looked business as usual, Dixon admitted that he couldn’t rule out anything as he saw the young Californian emerged from the accident.
“The team came on as I exited the carrousel in Turn 6 and said, ‘There’s going to be some cars coming back in (Turn) 7 that have taken a shortcut, damaged car’. I could see it was Rossi. That was the first thing that clicked in, ‘Man, he’s going to have a good day, return, fix the car, have a strong strategy and come through.’
“I followed it on the pylon. I could see how he was moving up. He’s a fierce competitor.”
Dixon’s 2018 season was nothing more than the quintessential of himself. He got hot with wins at Detroit and Texas, ended July with a win at Toronto and jetted away from the field.
The pendulum nearly swung in the other direction at the Grand Prix of Portland when Dixon was nearly collected in a five-car accident on the opening lap. The car suffered minimal damage and a mix of hard driving and strategy lifted him to an unbelievable fifth-place finish.
All things considered, Dixon recognized that staying on top of the championship was to keep a positive mindset and never falter while executing.
“I’ve been in those situations where you lose a chunk of points,” Dixon said. “That’s kind of the midway point or just after midway, right? You know there’s still plenty of time to rebound with the points. How it reflects here at Sonoma with double points, you can have such a big shift anyway.”
“Portland I think was huge for us as far as luck and being able to sort of come out of that pile-up, have the luck of the caution, when it fell, to make the most of that. Texas, Toronto, the places we won this year, they all make the difference, right? That’s what makes a championship.”
Chip Ganassi Racing has been no stranger to elite drivers, with a run of all-time greats such as Dario Franchitti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi. However, Dixon has elevated that bar with five titles now in the bag to pair with 43 victories as he extends his legend in Indy car racing history.
Team owner Chip Ganassi has overseen Dixon’s development since he first joined the team mid-season in 2002. Five championships later, Ganassi is as excited about what the Kiwi can do now just as much as he did from day one on and off the track.
“He’s just the man,” Ganassi said. “To see him develop as the kind of person he is, his family, I don’t know any other way to say it because we’ve all seen him since he was 21 years old or something hanging around the sport here. Just to be a part of that, to be along for the ride like that, with somebody like that, is really special.
“Obviously he’s had a lot of great teammates, a lot of great friends. He’s pretty much grown up — we’ve all grown up in our adult life with him as our driver. It’s a relationship that he and I have that I can’t imagine it being any better with anyone else.”
Mike Hull, Dixon’s strategist and Chip Ganassi Racing team principal, has been on Dixon’s pit box since his first year with the team in 2002. Hull describes Dixon’s work ethic and relentless commitment to perfection stand out from the rest.
“He comes to work every day like it’s the first day that he’s ever come to work,” Hull said said. He has never grown tired of driving the car. There’s probably some days he grows tired of talking to your group, but in terms of driving the car, he’s all in every day.
“When it’s not good for him on a given day, he wants to make it better. When it’s better, he wants to make it even better. He spends a lot of time in the building between races. He spends a lot of time with the people who have their hands on his car and their minds on the car.”
At the season’s completion, Dixon is only behind Indy car legends AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti in number of wins and is second to Foyt in championships – Foyt has seven. While statistically, he is one of the very best, Dixon takes it all in stride and is just humbled to be driving a race car and enjoying every minute of life.
“I’m very, very blessed in many ways,” Dixon said. “My racing career, to meet the love of my life with Emma. Have a great family. Two beautiful girls.
“I feel lucky I get to do what I love to do. I enjoy racing. I get to work with the best in the business … I hope that I continue for more years to come and enjoy the sport for what it is.”
“When you get into these situations where there’s a lot on the line, sometimes this even weekend, you don’t really enjoy it as much. I think over the past couple years, I think we’ve really tried to enjoy the atmosphere that we’re in, the people that we get to work with, the friends and everybody in the business.”