TORONTO – Most race drivers will say that to beat the competition, they have to find and exploit weaknesses in the others on the starting grid.
When the top dog is a four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion who has experienced pretty much every situation and come out a winner more times than most, it’s more difficult finding those flaws.
That's the challenge facing drivers in the title battle with Scott Dixon, who leads the 2018 championship by 33 points going into the Honda Indy Toronto. Dixon led both practices Friday on the temporary street course and was sixth in Saturday morning practice. The driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda is a favorite to win the pole position Saturday afternoon in Verizon P1 Award qualifying.
So, what weakness does a driver have who is third in all-time Indy car wins with 43, has four titles in his pocket, 17-plus seasons and 298 races under his belt?
“Like, none,” said Sebastien Bourdais, himself a four-time Indy car champion. “Even when he's put in a corner, he kind of gets that composed aggression that allows him to come back and get some strong points without exposing himself. He's good on short ovals, superspeedways and street and road courses. There is no weakness to Scott.”
Prior to a mistake Dixon made trying to overtake another car in the 2018 season opener at St. Petersburg, Bourdais found it hard to even remember a driving error from the veteran New Zealander, who turns 38 on July 22.
Dixon started ninth at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but came together with Takuma Sato on Lap 35 and ended up at the back of the field. He later compounded things with a drive-through penalty for pit-lane speeding. Despite the trouble, Dixon still finished sixth.
Bourdais insisted that the best strategy is simply to try and match Dixon's high standard every time out.
“You just have to be just as consistent and as strong as he is with a bit more success,” Bourdais said. “Things have to go your way and you have to hope that he gets a couple of bad breaks.”
The Honda Indy Toronto may not be a place where his rivals can hope for a less than Dixonian performance. While he has only five top-five finishes in 13 Toronto starts, two were wins when he swept the 2013 doubleheader weekend and he has only finished out of the top 10 twice.
Waiting for Dixon to falter isn't the best strategy because he has an uncanny ability to get the most out of his equipment in every race, said Josef Newgarden, the reigning series champion who sits second in the 2018 standings.
“I think his weakness is that he's not always going to be perfect and he's not always going to have the fastest car, so when he doesn't, you just try to beat him on those days,” Newgarden said.
“Like any other good driver in the series, I think that's about how I would size him up. He's never perfect, but he does a great job of capitalizing on a bad day. So when he's having a bad one, you have to make sure you're better than him.”
The rest of the field has one more practice (9:50 a.m. ET Saturday) to make up ground on Dixon before Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying takes place at 1:55 p.m. Saturday (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and same-day telecast at 5 p.m. on NBCSN) to determine the pole sitter. The 85-lap race airs live at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.