First in a series looking at the IZOD IndyCar Series championship season of Scott Dixon through various eyes. Today, race engineer Eric Bretzman has been there since the beginning.
Photos of Scott Dixon and Eric Bretzman at Target Chip Ganassi Racing offer a concise narrative. The driver and race engineer have a decade-long history, which includes 32 Indy car victories, three IndyCar Series championships, an Indianapolis 500 win and "lots of memories," Dixon notes.
“It’s about the only thing I know,” said Bretzman, who spent a couple of years working with driver Mark Dismore at Kelley Racing before joining Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2002.
They’ve grown together (Bretzman, 38, is five years Dixon’s senior) and have an ease of dialogue that was born of a core conviction and has developed through the years. They celebrated the latest triumph Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway with Dixon being crowned the IZOD IndyCar Series champion.
“It’s great because we can relate to things we’ve done in the past. ‘Hey, remember this one time,’ ’’ said Bretzman, who was an assistant engineer on the 2003 title-winning No. 9 entry when Dixon was 23 year old. “And he’s just as outspoken about it as I am. ‘Hey, we’re going to do this because we did before.’ We can go back and forth on it easy.
“We’ve gone through phases where he’s said I need to do this to the car mechanically and now he’s in a phase where he says I want it to do this and we figure it out.”
The University of Florida graduate understands the code and works with the crew to prepare the No. 9 chassis for each track in the diverse set of racing circuits that comprise the schedule. Three consecutive finishes out of the top 10 in the first quarter of the 19-race season relegated Dixon to eighth in the standings, which spawned “what’s going wrong” questions.
“The start of the season I look at it different,” Bretzman contended. “We finished fifth in the first race after starting 20th and second at Barber, and made up 20 seconds on (race winner Ryan) Hunter-Reay in the last (fuel) stint alone.
“We ran fast before Indy and the big summer swing; we just didn’t get the finishes. When you don’t get the finishes you don’t get the points so we were going the wrong way. Even Texas didn’t help with a gearbox (issue) and DNF there. It was just a matter of the first finish to drop and a whole bunch of others started coming.”
Three consecutive victories, starting at Pocono Raceway on July 7, turned the tide. Dixon bolted from seventh in the championship standings following the 16th-place finish at Iowa on June 23 to second following the sweep at Toronto in mid-July. Victory in Race 1 at Houston and a runner-up finish in Race 2 gave Dixon a sizable points advantage heading into the finale at Auto Club Speedway.
He closed the deal with a fifth-place finish in the 500-mile race.
A few weeks to rest and review and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing crews will be preparing for the 2014 season, which includes a switch from Honda power to the Chevrolet 2.2-liter, direct-injector, twin-turbocharged V6 engine.
“The competition is getting tighter and tighter,” said Bretzman, brother of Ben Bretzman, the engineer for Simon Pagenaud at Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports. “It’s a human sport; the crews and everybody is getting more accustomed to the cars and it does get more difficult every year. It will be a big winter for us.”