Ford Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon limped into last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in the literal and figurative sense. Weeks removed from his high-flying crash at the Indy 500 where the New Zealander fractured his ankle, and just days after a crash at the Texas IndyCar race, Dixon hobbled his way through Le Mans and rued the damage done to his championship aspirations.
The Kiwi’s return to Le Mans in 2018 has been an altogether different experience. After winning two of the last three IndyCar events, including Saturday night’s Texas round, and with the lead in the championship standings in hand, Dixon’s in a much happier place.
“Texas was crazy,” he told RACER. “The car was really hooked up, strategy was good, the pit stops [were good]. It’s one of those races you don’t get too often. It was a lot of fun. Maybe not too good for the race itself, but for us it was really good.
“Coming here last year I was pretty miserable with my fractured ankle, and then having another crash at Texas it banged my foot again pretty hard. I think this was the worst part of my year how I felt physically. This year it’s a lot different coming in with a win and my health. Le Mans is a lot of fun.”
Dixon’s No. 69 Ford GT experienced suspension problems during the first practice session on Wednesday that left him and co-drivers Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook ninth in the GTE-Pro class. As expected, the factory Porsche team was almost 1.5 seconds faster than the opposition, and while the sister No. 66 Ford came closest to the 911 RSRs, the lap time gap was hard to ignore.
“They look about over a second [faster], which is the biggest I’ve seen in a while,” Dixon said. “We’ll see if they went too fast and whether the [ACO] will look at the class balance before the race.”
Le Mans fans have been enamored by the trio of first-time participants in Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button, and Juan Pablo Montoya. As one of the most successful drivers from the North American racing scene, Dixon also gets noticed by fans who’ve followed his IndyCar career, and says he enjoys watching the spotlight shine on other stars who make the annual trek to Le Mans.
“The fans are really knowledgeable here,” he added. “You get some crossover, too. You’ll see people during our season in America, the diehard fans, and you’ll see them in the pit area here, too. There’s a ton of people trying to get autographs the whole time. The Alonso factor is always good for any series outside of F1. When he turns up it’s a big deal and it’s cool to see how he’s received.
“It’s kinda cool to see a lot of familiar faces even when we’re doing the [group] photo to catch Alonso or Juan or Jenson. It’s kind of like Daytona in a similar way, just on a much bigger scale, to have those points to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a long time.”