Monday, December 17, 2018

Dixon’s Choice Reinforces IndyCar’s Trajectory

Distilling the health of the Verizon IndyCar Series down to one man’s choice may seem foolhardy, but the continuation of the sport’s winningest active driver with the team he’s spent 17 years with is just one of many pieces of evidence suggesting the upswing for North America’s premier open-wheel championship is more than just marketing hype.

Despite having a multitude of options before him — both inside and outside of IndyCar — Scott Dixon’s multi-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing keeps him in position to continue building on his legacy in a series that’s only grown more competitive since his first championship celebration in 2003.

With 44 victories, four championships and one Indianapolis 500 triumph behind him, Dixon can easily be placed into the “living legend” category. Doing so, however, downplays what he may still achieve.

Addressing the media by conference call on Monday, Dixon and team owner Chip Ganassi considered whether he’s driving better this year than he ever has. Their responses leaned heavily on the notion that that to be as successful as Dixon has in a series like IndyCar, continuous improvement is the only option.

“I think the thing for me is that you’ve got to keep an open mindset,” said Dixon. “It’s forever evolving.

“Each day I go to the track, you’re learning so many more new things, whether it’s about driving style, areas that you can improve and things you can do differently — even just around pit stops and things like that.”

Part of that evolution comes from all of the changes Dixon has witnessed in his career. With championships spanning 13 years, Dixon has so far found success with three different chassis and three engine suppliers.

In the current IR-12 era, his title-winning effort in 2013 was with stock Dallara DW12 bodywork and Honda power. Two years later, he topped the points standings with a Chevrolet aero kit and engine. This year, he leads Alexander Rossi by 46 markers with four rounds remaining piloting a Honda fitted with Dallara’s universal aero kit.

“When you look at all the years Scott has been with us, how many different cars he’s driven, and each car does certain things well and other things not so well, it’s how you adapt to that, those changing environments,” said Ganassi. “Some cars were, I think, easier to drive and some were more difficult to drive over the years.”

PNC Bank Indy car races Long Beach Grand Prix
Both PNC Bank and the universal aero kit are new for Scott Dixon in 2018. | Photo: Dan Bathie / Spacesuit Media

No matter the car, Dixon has persevered, but it’s more than just cars that have changed as part of IndyCar’s evolution since Dixon’s first championship 15 years ago.

In 2003, all 16 races were run on ovals of varying lengths, from the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway to the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Five years later, Dixon won his second title in a 17-race season that featured 11 ovals alongside three street circuits and three road courses.

Another half decade of evolution further altered the schedule with 2013 consisting of seven street circuits, three road courses and six ovals across 19 races thanks to doubleheaders at Detroit, Toronto and Houston. Dixon won four races that year en route to his third championship, outscoring Helio Castroneves by 27 points.

Dixon’s most recent championship season achieved an almost perfect balance of IndyCar’s three disciplines with five races on city streets, five at permanent road courses and six on ovals. Dixon visited victory lane at one of each, his three wins beating out Juan Pablo Montoya’s two to break a tie at the season finale.

In the current season, Dixon has already won at two street circuits and one superspeedway, further solidifying his versatility. With two ovals and two road courses remaining, another IndyCar track trifecta — oval, street circuit and road course — is within reach with the universal bodywork continuing to provide close racing.

“I think the racing for me, and I’m going to be biased, but IndyCar racing is the best racing in the world with the different disciplines, what it takes to win a championship to the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500,” said Dixon.

Given IndyCar’s commitment to venue diversity, Dixon’s ability to find success at circuits of all types has ensured he’s a consistent contender, no matter the season’s makeup. Fortunately for fans of open-wheel racing, the unique challenge of IndyCar has served to create not only great racing but also attract premiere talent, making the acquisition of a fifth title no easy task.

“Everybody that’s made it to this stage is well-equipped and very good at what they do,” said Dixon. “I don’t think there’s ever really landslide victories or someone that comes in and crushes it and runs away with the championship.”

Scott Dixon races 2018 KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America
Chasing the title in his 17th season with Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott Dixon remains a force in IndyCar. | Photo: Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media

A race car that encourages good racing and a crop of talent that’s second to none deserve to be highlighted. The duty of presenting IndyCar falls to NBC Sports for the remainder of this season as well as the next three years thanks to a contract that will put eight IndyCar races on network television in 2019.

The new unofficial home of North American motor sports on television will feature not only open-wheel racing but all IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races and half of NASCAR’s premier series schedule, creating an environment ripe for cross-promotion that will surely benefit IndyCar.

For Dixon, who’s achieved so much success in the past and present, it’s the future that made staying with Ganassi and in IndyCar the right call.

By recommitting not only to his longtime team but to the series, Dixon has made an emphatic statement that was keenly articulated by his longtime boss and backed up by the driver himself.

“As soon as you get somebody to see it, they’re really locked in,” said Dixon of IndyCar. “The diversity of the drivers, the teams, where these people come from — there’s just so much to soak up.

“For me, it’s definitely a really positive time, and as Chip said, it’s heading in a great direction.”

With Dixon continuing to add to his already stout resume and IndyCar’s trajectory heading in a positive direction, it’s not a stretch to suggest that the best for both driver and series is yet to come.

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Ben Hinc

Executive Editor

When not writing words or code for The Apex, Ben works hard to live in the future by sampling new social media platforms, performing advanced tasks on an iPad Pro and even outfitting his home with "smart" devices.