Dixon: Momentum-building for 2011 season
For the first time since 2005, Scott Dixon entered the final race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season without being in championship contention. The goal then was to overtake Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves for third in the standings.
By winning the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dixon achieved that personal result and hopes it carries momentum into the 2011 season that begins March 27 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“It was mixed because it is hard to go into a race where you know you have to help another competitor and that is your teammate,” Dixon said of Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, who secured his second consecutive series title in the season finale. “I had never had that before because I was in the championship fight and we were still racing each other for it. In some ways, there was nothing major on the line but still you had to be helping Dario try and win the championship for the team, which was the main goal.
“In some ways, the race played out perfectly because (title contender) Will Power had problems early on and then later hit the fence, so at that point I could race freely. I guess it was in some way poetic justice that it ended that way for me and the 9 car to go out on top. Hopefully, we can carry that into next year and have a strong start to the season.”
As a competitor, Dixon wishes the off-season wasn’t so long so that he could begin the first step to returning to championship form.
“What I love doing is driving the car and when you have a bad season you want to get back in the car and start another one,” Dixon said. “We only have two days of testing on the schedule between now and when we get going again next year so that is a long time to think about what might have been.”
Dixon won IZOD IndyCar Series championships in 2003 and ’08, and was on contention until the final laps in 2006, ‘07 and ’09. This year, he recorded three victories and nine top-five finishes overall to wind up 55 points behind Franchitti.
“To be honest, it was a blah year all the way through,” Dixon said. “We had races that were OK. Edmonton was a ‘gimme,’ Homestead was good and Kansas was probably the only other one. To be honest, either the car was good and I didn’t execute it well or the car was bad and we didn’t execute it to get maximum points. It was one of those years where we never really got on a roll. We thought we were going to at some point.
“I guess it was a good team-building year and a year to build up some aggression for next season and get the program going in the right direction again. We learned a lot this year but it was disappointing from my point of view.”
Dixon began with a sixth-place at Brazil, but in the next race at St. Petersburg he finished 18th — the first of two DNFs that led to his second consecutive slow start to a season.
“It was a feeling of `Here we go again,’ ” Dixon recalled. “At Sao Paolo I made the mistake in qualifying and that is why we started seventh, which put us in the carnage at the start but we pulled that one back. With the last stint to go we were sitting first and second after Dario and I had driven all the way through the field after being taken out. But we made the wrong call on tires and should have pitted under yellow when we didn’t and that had us back to ninth.
“At St. Pete, the car was good and we qualified top three and were leading the race, but I had that altercation with Mario Moraes in Turn 1. Whenever we had a good car and was gearing ourselves up for a good finish we let ourselves down — whether it was me or a mistake in the pits. Indy, as well, on the first pit stop we went all the way back to last after the wheel fell off. We dug ourselves a hole. There were lots of those this year and far too many mistakes.
“I’m still surprised we finished third in the championship.”
Even after finishing second at Barber Motorsports Park, fourth in the Long Beach Grand Prix and then winning at Kansas, Dixon continued to believe he was not making the most of his opportunities.
“Once we got back to Indy and had that problem, then Indy even started to snowball,” Dixon said. “We had the speed early in the week and on qualifying our setups were down to the millimeter on everything and we just flat out didn’t have the speed. Once qualifying and the problem we had in the race we knew it was going to be one of those years. Even at that point we had given up a lot of points.
“It used to be you could have problems like that. The first season we had five DNFs and only won three races and we won the championship. These days the field is so bloody strong you don’t have a chance.”
Midway through the season, Dixon continued to hang tough in the championship battle with a fourth at Texas, sixth at Iowa and eighth at Watkins Glen before his second DNF doomed him to 20th at Toronto in July.
“Toronto was another bad turning point to the season,” Dixon said. “When you have a DNF at that point and Will finishes first and Dario second you lose 40 points to them. When you look at those guys, apart from Dario at Iowa, they never really had a down point. Will had a problem at the end on the last four ovals but they had no major upsets in the season with DNFs. That was our biggest problem having some DNFs and some shocking finishes at some other places.”
Following his victory at Edmonton, which he considers a gift because the apparent winner, Castroneves, was penalized for blocking on the final restart of the race, Dixon finished fifth at Mid-Ohio and second at Infineon. A return to the ovals saw him finish eighth at Chicagoland, seventh at Kentucky and sixth at Twin Ring Motegi
That left him eliminated from the championship entering the final race of the season. But by driving to a convincing victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dixon hopes he made a statement for 2011 — the final year of the engine/chassis formula.
“It will be interesting because different cars suit different people,” Dixon said. “Teams catch on to new things a little quicker than others so it will mix it up. The big teams will still be at the top but I think these cars are prone to driving at a certain style and maybe the next car will be totally different. It will be good for a shakeup. Dallara wants to have a car by July so we will be testing the new car by October and November. I’m very excited about that.”