IndyCar driver Scott Dixon arrives in Florida this weekend for the second round of the 2014 championship fourth on the table after the opening gambit in Saint Petersburg.
New Zealander Dixon is the reigning champion and one of only three men to win three or more IRL titles – former teammate Dario Franchitti has four and Sam Hornish Junior three – and is starting to mark himself out as one of the world’s best single-seater racers.
At just 33 the Kiwi is seventh on the all-time winners list with 33 victories and this season could easily move up to fourth behind AJ Foyt (67), Mario Andretti (52), Michael Andretti (42) and eclipse Al Unser senior (39), Bobby Unser (35) and Al Unser junior (34).
Dixon has a reputation as one of the toughest racers to get past and Franchitti has been quoted as saying to win a championship you have to go through his former teammate first. He’s not known as the Iceman for nothing. His single-minded focus on the job at hand is legendary, and he will consistently get the best out of the car no matter how good or bad it is.
A fair chunk of Dixon’s success has to come down to having only driven for the Target Chip Ganassi team since 2002. There’s been a big change in 2014 as Ganassi signed a deal to race with Chevrolet engines this season after being powered by Toyota and Honda power plants since 2003.
Not only has Dixon had to deal with a new engine, but he’s got a new teammate in Tony Kanaan and the team haven’t been able to do as much pre-season practice as they would have liked.
“St Pete was an average sort of weekend and we seem to be missing a few tenths of a second,” said Dixon as he prepared for Long Beach.
“The competition is so tough now and I was really surprised how close Honda was to the Chevy. Even in the speed traps they were real close, where in the past that’s where Chevy was much better.
“It appears the Honda and Chevy packages are pretty evenly matched now. We kind of messed up our strategy a bit by using the wrong tyres.
“In hindsight we should have tested more in pre-season. Penske and Andretti did about three more test session than us so have a bit of an edge. However, doing more of our testing later in the year could be more beneficial for us.”
Over the past number of seasons the opening two races of the championship at St Petersburg and Long Beach haven’t been the best hunting grounds for Dixon. Getting runs on the board early in the series two weeks ago with a fourth-place finish will help in the defence of his title.
Dixon and the Ganassi crew will have to raise their game a little this weekend if they are to stay in touch with the leaders, as Long Beach has also proved difficult in the past. In seven starts on the Florida track his best finish has been seventh, so there’s a bit of work to be done.
“I haven’t driven the car since St Petes, so hopefully the team has come up with a few ideas,” he said. “Long Beach is a bit of a tough one for us but we’ll just have to see how we go.
“I don’t want to go into this weekend just hoping for a top-five finish, I want to try and get the win.
“With my best finish fourth there, we’ve got a bit of work to do.
“I’m still learning about the Chevy and trying to get the best out of it. Also with TK [Kanaan] and Ryan [Briscoe] in the team this year everyone is flat stick trying to get everything to work. The other teams have had more time to settle into their work. But in general everything is going really well.”
The entire Ganassi team are looking forward to the Indianapolis 500 in May as they’ll have a fair amount of work together and feed off the data gathered from each car.