AVONDALE, Arizona – Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan have achieved so much in their years driving Indy cars.
With five championships, 57 wins, including one each in the Indianapolis 500, and 40 pole positions between them, their status as legends of the sport is secure.
In tonight’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway, the Chip Ganassi Racing teammates will supplement to their lists of accomplishments. Kanaan will make his 330th Indy car start to surpass Al Unser Jr. for fourth on the all-time Indy car chart. It will also be the 42-year-old Brazilian’s 269th consecutive race start, extending the Indy car record streak he started nearly 16 years ago.
Dixon (above), meanwhile, will tie retired Jimmy Vasser for second on the consecutive starts list at 211.
“It shows how capable we still are and that we are still around,” said Kanaan (right), honored at the beginning of the race weekend along with friend Helio Castroneves as both celebrate their 20th season in Indy car racing. “I love to break records like that and it’s another milestone that we can put in the books.”
While Kanaan’s consecutive start record is intact for now, he noted that Dixon may eventually overtake him. Dixon, 36, is five and a half years younger.
“Depends on how long I race!” Kanaan was quick to add. “He’s a lot younger than me so I’m sure that he’s going to beat that record eventually.”
Kanaan, a two-time winner at Phoenix Raceway, fared well in Friday night qualifying for the fourth race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. He ended up the fastest Honda in sixth place with a two-lap average run of 192.327 mph in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. The last car to qualify, Kanaan felt he had optimum conditions for his run.
“The wind died down quite a bit and we got the advantage of going out last,” he said. “Pretty good run, happy (to be) first Honda, that’s all we could do.”
Cars equipped with Chevrolet engines and aero kits dominated last year’s 250-lap race, taking eight of the top nine finishing positions, including race winner Dixon and fourth-place Kanaan when Chip Ganassi Racing was part of the Chevy contingent. The team switched to Honda this season, but with the top five qualifiers Friday with the bowtie brigade, it poses a large task for the Hondas to overcome.
“It’s going to be hard,” Kanaan admitted, “but that’s what we’re here for.”
Dixon was unaware that he is about to equal Vasser – who also drove for Ganassi – for consecutive starts and could surpass him in two weeks at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda hopes to one day pass Kanaan’s mark, whatever it winds up being.
“I need him to retire here quickly!” Dixon said. “Obviously that’s a cool stat. I didn’t even realize Jimmy had such a long stat going. It’s good to know and obviously guys that have all driven for Chip. That’s a pretty interesting one, too.”
The 36-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand will attempt to defend his Phoenix win from the eighth starting spot tonight. Dixon believed could have gone a little quicker in qualifying with a minor adjustment before his run.
“I think we should have trimmed more,” he said. “We were a little too conservative and obviously very stark. A little bit frustrating after the fact when you’ve finished it, but it is what it is.”
Kanaan, Dixon and the rest of the 21-car field will take on the first oval race of the year tonight at Phoenix Raceway’s 1.022-mile circuit. Live coverage begins at 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.