Dixon, Wheldon high on IRL

Five months preceding the Rolex 24 At Daytona, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were the adversaries locked in a last-race shootout for the IndyCar Series championship.

Now they are teammates under the Target Chip Ganassi Racing umbrella. Franchitti has moved from Andretti Green Racing's IndyCar Series operation to Ganassi's NASCAR Sprint Cup program. Dixon and Dan Wheldon will again compete for the IndyCar Series title, and recently welcomed 2007 Indy Pro Series champion Alex Lloyd into the fold.

At a testing session at Daytona International Speedway earlier this month for the 24-hour race, Dixon acknowledged it was a bit strange to see the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series champion wearing the same red firesuit with the Target logo on the front.

"It would have been better to have Dario as a teammate last year," said Dixon, the series' 2007 runner-up.

Ganassi has a diverse driver lineup, which also includes 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, schooled in open-wheel racing.

"They say I'm robbing the open-wheel series to bring them over here and that's not true," Ganassi said. "The IndyCar Series is about to get jump-started with some big things happening this year. I just want to grow and I want to win.

"In the IRL, I think Dixon and Wheldon are the class of the series. Last season, we lost the championship in the last corner of the last lap of the last race to some other guy."

Losing the IndyCar Series title has heightened Dixon's resolve to add to his 2003 championship.

"It was a fun season for us, a great season for Team Target," Dixon said. "In many of the races, Dan and I were extremely competitive and won a lot of races. It's a shame to see Dario go but hopefully we'll win a championship this year."

Similarly, Wheldon expects big things from the IndyCar Series, both on and off the track, in 2008.

"I honestly believe the IndyCar Series is ready for a big boost of momentum," Wheldon said. "I very much enjoy driving those race cars, particularly at the Indianapolis 500. Now, they seem ready to go the extra mile and do what it takes to increase awareness. They have some good people now and have a little consistency in that. I believe and trust what they are saying.

"With (president of the commercial division) Terry Angstadt, you have somebody now with a solid focus on moving the series ahead. Having him is a help because it is stability and he understands we have to do whatever it takes. I really do see some momentum and you will hear some more positives in the future.

"And the Helio Castroneves factor (from winning "Dancing with the Stars") will be very, very good. You have to give Helio credit with the way he portrayed himself and he portrayed the IndyCar Series was very positive. I don't think anybody but him could have done as good a job as he did, which is why we couldn't give him any grief about it even though we were dying to. What he did for IndyCar's image was very important." IndyCar.com

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