Q and A with Scott Dixon
Scott is a two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion and drives the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He's coming off a fifth-place finish in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and will be making his fourth start at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Scott has finished second at Barber Motorsports Park three times previous.
Q. Let's talk a little bit about the start of the season at St. Petersburg. How important was it to the No. 9 team to get off to such a strong start and maintain that momentum heading into Barber?
SCOTT DIXON: It's always important. I think every race pays the same amount of points, so you've got to be in to win, and obviously, our weekend didn't start as planned and qualifying was as bad. I think we initially got into a bit of a tailspin just with some setup things, and it didn't really right itself. The car, the pace and the race was pretty decent. I think we probably could have fought for another couple of spots. We had a wastegate problem toward the end; that's why we lost so much power on the straights, allowing Marco (Andretti) and T.K. (Tony Kanaan) to get back by.
I guess it was the best we could have hoped for out of the weekend considering how badly it started. But definitely looking for big improvement for this weekend, and I don't think some of our setup issues will sort of worry us as much at Barber.
Generally not too bad. I think we've had some pretty bad starts before at St. Pete. To come away with fifth-place points isn't great but better than a lot of other scenarios we've been in there.
Q. We are moving to Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. You have three second place finishes there. We had an Open Test there not too long ago, so you saw a lot of pace from a lot of the field. What do you think it'll take to get you onto to the top step of the podium this weekend?
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know what's more unfortunate, finishing second there every year or finishing second to Penske.
I think last year we had our best shot at probably winning it. We had a bit of a fumble on strategy call. I think I got caught up in some lap traffic. Power was able to pit the lap before with clean air and obviously they jumped us in the pit stop exchange there.
Looking forward to it. It's a track that I think a lot of teams get a fair bit of testing so the competition even as we saw at the open test was very close and very tight. So I guess we hope to practice well, qualify well and get some valuable points.
But obviously trying to win there I think would be much more pleasing than the last sort of three years of finishing second.
Q. I know this weekend the team is doing a special promotion across all the series that it participates in to support Charlie Kimball's Race With Insulin program. Have you ever driven a car with blue wheels before? Do you think that'll bring you some luck?
SCOTT DIXON: I haven't (driven a car with blue wheels). Hopefully it does bring luck, and then I've got to try and get Chip (Ganassi) to run blue wheels all the time.
I think it's obviously a great cause and to help Charlie's program and the whole of Ganassi Racing. I think it's across obviously all series, so Grand Am which will be partnering with us at Barber and then the Cup side, too. I'm not even sure where they're racing this weekend. I should know that but I don't.
But yeah, no, it's exciting. I think it's good to bring awareness of diabetes, and obviously Charlie is a teammate, and I think it's a great fit.
Q. You touched on it a minute ago with the three runner-up finishes at Barber. Does that fall into one of those good news/bad news things for you? The good news that you have run that well, bad news you just haven't been able to get to first?
SCOTT DIXON: I think each scenario has been kind of different. I think the first two years ‑‑ well, last year we qualified fairly well, I think, second or third. Some years you've come a little deeper in the pack. That's why second was a great result. I think last year was probably more the disappointing side in the fact that we led a lot of laps, the car was fast. I think on the last sort of 15 laps I think Will and myself sort of split from the field and I finished second. Both our cars were definitely capable of winning the race. It just kind of depended who fell out of the pit stop exchange ahead, and that's kind of how it played out.
But yeah, I guess we're in the game to win. We go every weekend to win the race, and that's even if you've had a bad start to the weekend like we did last.
Yeah, it's a good news/bad news. Second place is fantastic, and if you had an average of that throughout the whole season, you'd be looking fantastic.
Obviously we would love to win at Barber. It's a fantastic facility and a great track and a great crowd, as always, and the fans that come out. To get on the top spot of the podium would always be the ultimate goal.
Q. Question for you about the tires: What do you make of the difference between the 2012 and 2013 compounds, and also do you anticipate there being a huge difference between the reds and the blacks this week given how that was such a big part of last year's race?
SCOTT DIXON: This year we've only done the street course (at St. Petersburg). We did use the new tire I believe at the Barber Open Test, so those tires haven't changed as much for the road course, even though the lap times we were about two seconds below pole time of last year, which we think a lot of that is due to the surface upkeep, that they've sort of cut it a little bit or brushed it or something, and the track grip was up a huge amount at the test. So we'll see if that probably lasts through this weekend, as well.
St. Pete definitely the street course tire has ‑‑ for me has changed significantly in being that last year the car, we were constantly fighting sort of issues with rear grip. I love to drive a loose car, so I think it sort of helped me, the new car last year with the combination of the tire. This year it's a lot of rear grip, a lot of understeer. It seems like it wears the front tires off a lot quicker, as well. So we haven't kind of seen that quite as much at the Barber test that we did have.
Maybe with the warmer temperatures going back a month or so later; I think the track was pretty cold then, so we were looking at 20 or 30 degrees warmer for this race weekend, which may change a little bit.
But yeah, I guess the red tires were pretty key to last year and the great racing that we have. I think it's important that Firestone work on that. We see how the Formula 1 races go, and Pirelli are getting a little bit of flak, but the racing is fantastic. It's more in the driver's hands of managing the tires, looking after them, making sure they can get through a whole stint, teams working out strategies to figure out ways to get to the end quicker. It creates a lot of differences between teams and drivers and that creates racing on track.
This weekend is a little bit unknown just because it's the first road course race of the year. I hope ‑‑ there's still quite a bit split between the reds and the blacks. I think at St. Pete it almost seemed like the gap between the reds and blacks was a lot less. I know they're normally quite conservative at the start of the year, Firestone, to make sure we have a durable tire, but hopefully for me I'd hope that the reds fall off quickly and you have to really maintain a smart pace and a setup and manage the car well throughout the racing stint.
Q. Tony Stewart says it takes about five NASCAR races into a new season to see which teams are stronger. IndyCar doesn't race as often as NASCAR, but do you think it takes a few races in IndyCar for the stronger teams to emerge?
SCOTT DIXON: I think with stronger teams you always see more consistency. I think that's what wins championships and some of the bigger races is that they generally cover most of the different disciplines. NASCAR is a little bit different because it's mainly oval based, and with us it's quite tough because you have street, road course, short tracks and superspeedways to try to get a good hit on it.
Motor racing these days is kind of tough at the high levels just because you don't get a whole lot of track time before a race weekend to prepare or to even turn things around to try and get back if you're having a bad weekend.
I think for us it's a little harder to determine just the fact that yes, we do race less and we have many ‑‑ we have twice or three times the amount of disciplines to sort of ‑‑ or categories that some things are stronger in.
I think once we get through the first couple, obviously for us it's a little easier to determine what street course and road course coming into the first two races to see where people are headed, but I'd say the bigger teams generally there's a little more depth to the team. It's a little quicker for them to react if they have a bad weekend to try and turn things around, and I think in the long run that's why you see the consistency is a little stronger.
Q. Sponsorships are obviously difficult to maintain in these present economic climates. Can you talk about Target and Chip Ganassi's relationship over the years? It seems to be quite a solid one.
SCOTT DIXON: It's very solid. I think I'm very lucky being with the team. This is my 12th season with them, and Chip obviously, I wouldn't say it's lucky. I think they do a great job for Target and vice versa. The relationship going on for 23 or 24 years, they've won a lot of races and championships across the different disciplines ‑‑ or series, I should say, that Chip works with. Results are a big key to it, and obviously the close relationship and the business to business I think is a big sell between Target as a whole and then obviously the partnership between the other companies that are involved with Target.
It's creating awareness about the brand. It's all about the brand and the people that are involved, and for me it's been fantastic because I've known a lot of these people for 12 years, and they still come and really are enthusiastic about every race weekend that we come to. It's just a strong bond, well managed on both sides, and just a great partnership. I think for many teams on the outside looking in, it's definitely what they want to have at some point.
Q. At what part of the season do you start looking towards a championship? Is it after the Indy 500 or are you already worried about where you stand for the championship? When do we go from race to race to we're working on the championship?
SCOTT DIXON: I think we're always going into the season to set two goals, and obviously Indy as far as a whole and coming up first in our marquee event. We set our sights on winning that race. And then secondly you look at the championship.
But, as everybody knows in motor racing, the first race pays the same amount of points as the last race. I think for me the key is being consistent in the fact that ‑‑ which I think when Dario has won championships over the past couple of years, they've been really good at turning bad weekends into good ones. Quite similar to what we had in St. Pete, you started a bad weekend but you'd turn it into somewhat positive points paying situation.
You know, these days, I remember looking back at my first championship in 2003, I think I DNF'd out of five or six races and still won the championship and there was only 16 races in the season. If you do that nowadays, there would be no possible way of winning the championship. I think reliability and issues back then were definitely a little bit different with all the engine manufacturers and things like that. But consistency really pays at the moment, and I think that's the focus.
I guess it's just trying to be as consistent as possible but also treating each weekend as its own, not focusing too much on, well, if I do this it's going to change the whole run of the championship chase. You've got to go out there, you've got to set your mind on winning the single event. If you can't win, then you've got to look at the next best situation, second, third, and so on and so on.
You're constantly thinking about it, but you're more thinking about each weekend and trying to win that race.
Q. You've won the title twice in 2003 and 2008. How much tougher is it to win a title than it was back in '03 and '08?
SCOTT DIXON: I guess they're still always very tough. It's just different scenarios, I guess, that change the outcome a little bit. As I explained, reliability and crashing ‑‑ I think when we won the championship in '03 it was a level formula, and the attrition was somewhat a lot higher. I think as time has gone on, the cars are more of a one make as far as the chassis. We do have different engine manufacturers, but the cars are a lot more reliable. They're definitely safer to drive.
There's things that work into it. I think it's always very tough. When I first won in '03 I didn't know what I had achieved. I was only 22 at the time and sort of had just started another full year with Ganassi for my second time with them and moving to a different series, moving to an all-oval series. It's funny to look back on it and see what we had achieved in such a short time, whereas 2008 as totally different. The two series had merged, Champ Car or CART had come together with INDYCAR, and the fields and the competition had a little bit more depth to it, and obviously the drivers and everybody involved.
And the course at that time, as well, we started racing road courses, and in '08 it was kind of split down the middle. Every year is very different, every year is very competitive. This year is obviously very tough in the fact that the competition is very hard, and that's no different to any other year.
Q. Obviously Dallara is going to win its 200th race this weekend at Barber. Even though you've only driven for Dallara for a short time compared to your time in the series, you're the winningest driver for Dallara, and they just wanted to know how you felt about Dallara reaching a milestone and being their winningest driver.
SCOTT DIXON: It's a fantastic company and obviously one that we've had ‑‑ as a team we've had a great relationship with, and now supplying the single car to the series changes the dynamic a little bit as we first started we ran G-Forces in competition with Dallara.
It's a great support. They listen carefully to what IndyCar need and want. So yeah, it's a good relationship and something that we're all a part of, and they help us out a lot.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Scott, for your time, and good luck at Barber.
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