As he prepares to embark on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon takes heart in the way 2015 finished – with his fourth career championship in dramatic style.
From the season-opening race at St. Petersburg to the finale at Sonoma, the theme for Dixon and the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing team last season was simple: “We never give up,” Dixon said.
Even while Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya maintained a stranglehold on the No. 1 spot in the standings through the first 15 of 16 races, Dixon and Co. never lost sight of the fact they were still in the championship battle heading into the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 30.
All they needed was a chance – and they got it. Dixon was able to come from behind in the final race to take the checkered flag.
Then he won again: Dixon and Montoya ended the season tied atop the standings (556 points apiece), but Dixon earned the championship on a tiebreaker (three race wins to Montoya’s two).
In doing so, Dixon moved into second on the list of most all-time Indy car titles, joining Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti with four apiece. They are second to only A.J. Foyt’s seven career championships.
“We have the same mindset every weekend, and that’s to go to the track and win,” Dixon said. “Obviously, we don’t try to come from behind. We try to start the season strong and we want to lead as much as we can.
“But even if you look at a couple of my championships and even Dario’s, I think two or three of those ones, we came from a deficit, too.
“We’re in the business to win races and this team has won a lot of races. Winning Sonoma was definitely a huge upset.”
The 2015 season was one of highs and lows for Dixon. The New Zealand native started with a mediocre 15th-place finish at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, was 11th at the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park, 20th in the second half of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Belle Isle doubleheader and 18th at the Iowa Corn 300 at Iowa Speedway.
“As a team, we didn’t execute as well as we should have in some areas,” Dixon said. “I think we definitely isolated a lot of problems we had at some of the tracks and street courses, which with the exception of Long Beach (where he won) was a bit of a fundamental problem.
“Winning championships, they’re very tough to do, especially with the depth and competition we have now in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It just shows the resilience of the team and how they can bounce back.”
There were enough highs for Dixon to overcome the lows, starting with his win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and subsequent victories in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway and the championship clincher at Sonoma Raceway, when he overcame a 47-point deficit to Montoya in the double-points race. The Sonoma win was the 38th of Dixon’s 15-year Indy car career, moving him within one of Al Unser for fourth on the all-time list.
“Our high was obviously Sonoma and taking the championship,” Dixon said. “But there were a lot of crazy mixed emotions with the highs and lows we had, especially very late.”
The second half of the season was when Dixon shined: two wins, a fourth-place finish and four other top-10 showings in the final eight races.
“I don’t know why we’re a second-half team,” Dixon said “If we could answer that, we’d try to do the same in the first part of the season.
“You definitely see a late run of tracks we excel at, but we also excel in the front side of that, too. Trust me, we’re working hard on figuring that out.”
When he climbed out of his car at Sonoma, a wave of relief and emotion washed over Dixon. Sure, he’d been in this position three other times, but the fourth championship definitely stood out. Not only that, but the win clinched the 11th Indy car championship for the Ganassi team and was its 100th Indy car race victory.
“I was a little sad for Montoya, for about an hour or so,” Dixon said with a smile, “and then it sank in and we were happy. That was probably the sweetest championship I’ve had, just for the sheer fact it was unexpected. Chip also called it his sweetest championship of all.
“We were not going to be down and out. We knew we still had a chance, and when you have a chance, there’s still a possibility – but there was still a lot of stuff stacked against us.
“To put on the display that we did, you don’t get those days too often.”