MONTEREY, Calif. – Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has advice that the three other championship contenders should take entering Sunday’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Seize the moment. This golden opportunity might not materialize again.
Dixon used Helio Castroneves as an example. With 30 race wins and 50 poles as an INDYCAR driver, the Brazilian is one of the most successful in the sport’s history. In 20 seasons full-time – 18 with Team Penske – Castroneves finished second in the standings four times and in the top five on 14 occasions. Each season provided another opportunity to win the season title, but the title eluded him.
Castroneves has been an Indianapolis-only INDYCAR driver the past two years. His window for an INDYCAR championship appears to have closed.
“Helio has been down this same road so many times with second-place runs,” he said. “It can be your first (championship opportunity) of many, it can be your last.
“You’ve got to jump on it when you can.”
Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden capitalized on championship opportunities in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Alexander Rossi was the series runner-up to Dixon last year and while he signed a multiyear contract earlier this year to remain with Andretti Autosport, he knows the success they’re having together isn’t guaranteed.
“Every day in a race car, regardless of the situation you’re in, is an opportunity – you’re not guaranteed anything in this sport as we’ve seen all too many times,” he said. “You have to enjoy every day that you’re in it.
“Every single time I get in the car, whether it’s a test, a charity event, a qualifying session or a championship-deciding race, I’m trying to win and be better than everyone else.”
Dixon said that from his perspective, losing a championship is be more memorable than winning a championship. Certainly it’s more painful.
“I mostly reflect and think about the ones that we lost,” he said. “In 2007, running out of fuel on the last lap and the last corner (at Chicagoland Speedway) to lose the championship. In 2009, strategy (cost us).
“There are so many scenarios and those are the unfortunate ones you think about.”
Pagenaud knows the pressure of the weekend will build, and he feels ready for it.
“It’s funny, but I do like having pressure,” he said. “I’ve found I do better under pressure. So, bring some.”
Newgarden will take a 41-point lead over Rossi into Sunday’s race. Pagenaud is 42 points out of the series lead, Dixon 85.
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey today. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).