INDIANAPOLIS – Dinner conversation for Emma and Scott Dixon often revolves around words of reassurance on the night before qualifying or a race, but not before this weekend.
Scott had not yet found the sweet spot in his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda after five days of practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 36-year-old New Zealander could not tell his wife that he was dialed in, as he typically does, before qualifying commenced for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“I actually have never been that nervous,” Emma said today after watching her husband win his third career Indianapolis 500 pole. “I’ve (watched) it 12 times and I’ve never felt more nervous.
“The wind was in a different direction, it was in a corner that Scott doesn’t love, the dip in (Turn) 2. I heard him speaking the night before about his concerns in the lap. ‘I don’t like that corner. I haven’t found that sweet spot in my car.’ And then that happened to Sebastien.”
Her voice trailed off when mentioning Sebastien Bourdais, who was more than halfway home to posting Saturday’s fastest four-lap qualifying run when his No. 18 GEICO Dale Coyne Racing Honda slammed into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier in one of the scariest crashes in recent years. The four-time Indy car champion is recuperating at IU Health Methodist Hospital after undergoing successful surgery on pelvic and hip fractures.
So what did Dixon do before showing up for pole day today? The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion visited his buddy Bourdais, a sports-car teammate in the Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT program.
“He was adamant to go,” Emma said. “He just does what he thinks is the right thing. That’s the Scott that I know away from the track. He’s a good man. He’s a really, really good person. That’s the Scott I have. You guys get to see a race car driver, but when he goes to the hospital and checks in on his friend before (qualifying for) the pole, that’s the guy I know.”
Dixon, the focused race car driver, blocked out what happened to his friend to post the fastest four-lap qualifying average in 21 years at 232.164 mph, the best since Arie Luyendyk’s 236.986 mph run in 1996. Dixon’s first lap of 232.595 mph was also the quickest in qualifying since Luyendyk’s record 237.498 in 1996.
“I thought maybe the dash had broken on the steering wheel and brought up a fake number,” Dixon said of his qualifying run, which outlasted a challenge from two-time Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter. “We seriously don’t think we expected to see the speed that we did.”
Dixon actually debated with engineer Chris Simmons before the run whether his car had been trimmed out too much.
“I was basically talking myself out of it and seeing if he could maybe put some more downforce in the car, and he was like, ‘Man, don't worry, it's going to be fine, it's going to be fine,’” Dixon said.
Dixon’s lone Indy 500 victory came from the pole in 2008. He also started from the pole two years ago and finished fourth. His 14 career Indy 500 starts include a pair of runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2012.
After not hearing the words she’s accustomed to receiving at the dinner table, Emma asked Scott if he had found his sweet spot in the car after today’s Fast Nine Shootout practice session. Yes, finally, he had. But she was still nervous.
As he finished his run, Emma hopped up and down on pit road. She stared up at an IMS video board and put her hands over her mouth after realizing her husband had moved into the No. 1 spot. After he held onto the pole, both husband and wife were on the same page about wanting to remember Bourdais.
“Got to give a shout out to Sebastien Bourdais, too, saw him this morning, and he's doing well,” Scott said. “We've spent a lot of time together over the years, and he's a hell of a driver. To be honest, I think he would have been the one that snatched the pole today. So just got to wish him well. I know he's going to be on the mend quickly and hopefully he can be in a car here very soon.”
Emma added, “I’m so gutted for Sebastien and his family because he was definitely the car to beat.”
Dixon earned 42 points for the pole to pass defending series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske for the series lead, though points are not officially awarded until after the race. But Dixon reminded the real challenge is finishing in the same position as he starts on May 28.
He typically appears so calm, cool and collected – hence the "Iceman" nickname – but watching fellow qualifiers today come perilously close to the wall in Turn 2 had Dixon thinking he should turn the TV channel.
“I think I maybe should have been sitting in my bus and watching ‘Days of Our Lives’ as opposed to watching all the drama going on out on the track because you get so amped up,” he said. “(Teammate Tony Kanaan) and I were sitting across from each other in the engineering room, and everybody knows how animated that guy is, so he was freaking me out, and it was just a bad deal to start with.
“You know that's going to be a tricky part. We always knew that with the ambient conditions and how the wind direction was. Especially yesterday, I think after we saw Seb's crash, that definitely makes everybody (think about it) – it's kind of there. But as soon as you strap in the car, you're just trying to do the best that you can and dial the car in as much as possible.”