Moving from 12th on the starting grid to win at Homestead-Miami Speedway was quite heady for Scott Dixon. More intriguing is that the March 2003 race was the first for the 22 year old from New Zealand in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Dixon went on to win two additional races and, despite five DNFs, earned the series championship with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Considerably wiser and more experienced in 2008, he claimed the series title punctuated by his first Indianapolis 500 victory.
Is there a five-year championship pattern developing? Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, would like to believe so.
A perennial contender who finished third in the 2012 standings (33 points behind title winner Ryan Hunter-Reay), Dixon has vaulted to second in the championship courtesy of three consecutive victories.
He’s 29 points behind Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves heading into the Aug. 4 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, where he’s won the past two years and four times overall. In upcoming races at Sonoma, Baltimore and Auto Club Speedway, last year he placed 13th, fourth and third. The season finale is Oct. 19 at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval.
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Prior to the July 7 race on the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway tri-oval, he was seventh in the standings (92 points arrears).
“We don't intentionally start the season bad, though we typically seem to somehow,” says Dixon, who has won at least one race in nine consecutive seasons. “It's so competitive, with how many different race winners we've had this year, the points are jumbled up, people have made strides at different points in the year.
“I suspect there's going to be four, five, six people that are going to be fighting for it at the end of the year. Hopefully we're one of them. Hopefully we dig deep enough and maybe it goes our way.”
Dixon, who earned his 32nd Indy car victory just ahead of turning 33 on July 22 to move into seventh on the all-time list, might just be reaching his prime. He's also made 150 consecutive starts.
“Racing is still in my veins and hopefully my career is a long one and something that I can enjoy for a long time,” he says. “As you go on through your career, you have good races, bad races, lots of ups and downs. You cherish Indianapolis 500 victories and championships a lot more. I don’t know whether you know you won’t do it in 10 more years or what but the drive is still there. I still wake up every morning wanting to go to the track and race cars and hopefully win some more races.
“I think the championships in 2003 and 2008 -- there were five years in between -- that the ups and downs make you realize it’s not that easy to win races.”
Following the victories at Homestead, Pikes Peak and Richmond (the latter back to back), Dixon posted six top-five finishes – including five runners-up – in the final nine events of the 16-race season.
“In 2003, it was a strange deal – the first time I ever ran an all-oval series,” he recalls. “It’s fair to say I was a little reluctant to start with but also very young. I didn’t really know what I had achieved at that point. It was still a hell of an accomplishment.”
Dixon dominated in 2008 with six victories and leading 11 of the 17 races (899 of total 2,860 laps). He led 115 of the 200 laps in the Indianapolis 500 in winning from the pole.
“2008 was an all-around great year,” Dixon adds. “We won six races, won the Indy 500. It was one of those dream years. For me to look back at that stage in my career it was very cool to look back and see what we had achieved that year.
“It’s strange to have championships that far apart and look at the differences and see how you were different at those times.”
And what if he goes on to secure his third championship in October at Auto Club Speedway?