They are polar opposites. One is from Brazil, the other from New Zealand. One has a larger-than-life personality. The other is a bit more reserved. Both are champions and Indianapolis 500 winners, but their driving styles are nothing alike.
Meet Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon. They’ve known each for years, but they’re just now getting to know each other as teammates. And, so far, it’s working well.
Example: The Firestone 600 on June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, where Dixon led 97 of the 248 laps and Kanaan led 57. Dixon, driving the No. 9 Energizer EcoAdvanced Chevrolet, won for the second time this season and 37th time in his Indy car career. Kanaan, after a prolonged and spirited duel, finished 7.8 seconds back in second place in the No. 10 NTT Data Group Chevrolet. He was a gracious runner-up.
"You always want to win but I’m so happy for Scott, he ran a really good race. And while a second isn’t a win, I’ll take those championship points,” he said. ''Scott is a racer. ... He is an incredible driver. 'Does he care if people talk about him or not? Not really. He's going to get that trophy. 'If you ask any driver that races against Scott, they're going to respect him a lot. 'That's the biggest thing in racing.''
Kanaan, the 40-year-old Brazilian whose career features the 2004 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and the 2013 Indy 500 win, joined Dixon, the 34-year-old New Zealander whose career features three championships and the 2008 Indy 500 win, with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams last season.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Dixon said. “You race with people for a long time and know them socially, but you don’t know them as a teammate. It’s been fun explore that part of it with Tony. I went into it with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. It’s been a lot of fun.”
They first met in 2001 when Dixon advanced from Indy Lights to CART, where Kanaan was a rising star. In the ensuing years, they were friendly rivals with a connection in mutual racing friends Dario Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon. But it wasn’t until the start of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season that they got to know each other as teammates.
“Scott and I were never close in the sense that Dario and Dan and I were close, and that’s mostly because we had never been teammates,” Kanaan explained. “But Dan and Dario were teammates with Scott, and they always spoke highly of him. When I joined the team this late in my career, we already had known each other for years. Even though we’d never had the relationship that I’d had with Dan and Dario, he’d had that same relationship. It’s funny how things work out.”
It’s also funny, period. Kanaan’s post-session debriefings with his engineers are works of performance art. While Dixon gets through the basics of how the car feels and handles, Kanaan is the car.
“His story-telling is the funniest stuff I’ve ever heard,” Dixon said. “When he debriefs, he’s like a cartoon character. Instead of telling people what the car felt like, he acts it out with voices. He keeps everyone entertained. The first year with a new team is always the toughest, but he did a great job of fitting in. Everybody knows TK, and his personality is a big part of that. His personality is upbeat, and that was a big help for him and the team.”
In their first year together, they were able to learn from each other. It wasn’t the best of years for either -- Dixon won at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, while Kanaan also came on late in the season, finishing on the podium at Iowa, twice at Toronto and Milwaukee before winning the season finale at Fontana. Dixon finished third in the final driver standings; Kanaan seventh. But as the races clicked off and the weeks passed, they grew as teammates -- and as friends.
“Scott’s been here for 13 or 14 years, but we needed to get to know each other in terms of how we race,” Kanaan said. “We’ve been able to feed from each other a lot. Times have changed. It used to be that you could learn things from teammates in the past, but there was always a little bit that was kept to ourselves. Now everything is out in the open. We have two different driving styles, but we help each other.”
In part, the transparency among teammates is a product of technology. Computer readouts of data from the cars’ sensors allow teammates to tell where they’re braking, accelerating and steering, and how they’re gaining -- or losing -- time on the racetrack.
“Everything is documented on the car and in words with engineers,” Dixon said. “You can find out anything you need to know about teammates, and that helps everyone on the team. It’s been a cool process with Tony. We’re fairly different in a lot of ways -- he likes a bit of understeer in his car -- but he’s done a great job with sharing and communicating. It made both of us better as the season went on.”
If they could borrow the best driving traits from each other, what would they be? Dixon goes first.
“I’d take his never-give-up attitude,” Dixon said. “We’ve seen that with some of those great, impossible finishes he’s had. His determination is something many people have wished they’ve had. He’s always aggressive but he’s never ridiculous about it. I love that about him. He never gives up, but he doesn’t make mistakes because of it.”
Kanaan thinks about his answer for a moment.
“Scott can drive anything, anywhere, anytime and make it go fast,” Kanaan said. “He can make the best out of a bad car. It doesn’t matter if it’s not right; he can make it fast.”
He pauses with a laugh. “Even if it’s missing a wheel, he can make it go fast.”