One layer below the IndyCar championship duel between Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, you’ll find an interesting tug-of-war between the men tasked with leading the duo to a title.
On Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing side, race engineer Chris Simmons (pictured above) is chasing his second championship with the New Zealander, and if they come out on top on Sunday, it will place the two in rare company. For Dixon, it would mark his fifth IndyCar title, moving him into second on the all-time list behind A.J. Foyt. It would also be the fifth championship for Simmons, having earned three with Dario Franchitti at Ganassi and the 2015 title with Dixon.
Fighting against Dixon and Simmons, you’ll find Andretti Autosport technical director Eric Bretzman, who joined the team in 2017. Prior to his new post, Bretzman spent more than a decade engineering Dixon at CGR and sat atop the timing stand for the Kiwi’s first three titles. Well versed in the art of working with Dixon to defeat IndyCar’s best drivers, and thanks to Rossi being in a position to overtake his former driver, Bretzman (below, with Dixon) is tasked — for the first time — with taking down his former driver.
“I know it’s doable,” Bretzman told RACER. “We all have the same tools to start with. This group has really excelled and done just as good of a job, and we just need to out-Dixon Dixon. They are a really good team. To be in the same race for the championship, it’s great.”
Simmons knows his former teammate has armed Rossi with everything he could need to take on the most successful IndyCar driver in the field.
“Eric Bretzman was a big part of Dixon’s history, and for a few years, I was his assistant while he was lead engineer on Scott’s car,” he said. “He knows all of Dixon’s tricks and I’m sure he’s teaching them all to Rossi, and Rossi has tricks of his own, so it won’t be easy. Every time we look over there, I think he’s brought some of our outlook to go with theirs, and it makes for some formidable opposition.”
Bretzman speaks with great pride — and a fair bit of fire — when pointing out how far the Andretti team has come in the last two years. The program’s last IndyCar championship came in 2012 with Ryan Hunter-Reay, and with Rossi in the frame for this year’s title, Bretzman believes the team is back to where it belongs.
“We’re not just knocking [Ganassi] off; we’re knocking off the big shiny cars (Team Penske), too,” said Bretzman, who engineered Fernando Alonso at the Indy 500. “There’s no reason Andretti Autosport shouldn’t be named first when people talk about the ‘Big 3.’ We kind of went away for a while, and now we’re back.”
Although Rossi is the only Andretti driver in contention for the championship, Bretzman has enjoyed his technical director role and all of the challenges it presents to field competitive entries with all four cars.
“I think it’s really cool to be in this new job and to put the right tools in people’s hands,” he said. “At the test on Thursday, Marco [Andretti] was right there with Dixon. So, it’s not just Rossi we’re focused on. It’s incredibly difficult to get four cars to be 1-2-3-4. So, I find that as a really interesting mission. And that’s the strength of the team being showed. You get in one of these cars and you have an equal shot.”
Dixon, Rossi, and IndyCar’s other stars are readily celebrated for their amazing poles, wins, or championships. With Simmons on the verge of a fifth championship as an engineer and Bretzman close to a fourth, it’s also worth singing the praises of those who’ve achieved some rather amazing success behind the great drivers.
“We’re not really thinking about that too much right now,” Simmons admitted. “There’s a lot of history Mr. Dixon can achieve in the future here and I think people are starting to realize how good he is and how many good things he’s been doing for so many years.”
We’ll know in approximately 24 hours which engineer will be celebrating a championship victory. According to Simmons, things will not get out of hand if Dixon becomes the first five-time champion in IndyCar history since A.J. Foyt (who went on to add another two).
“Chip doesn’t let us do that,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t spend a lot of time celebrating. We spend our time concentrating on the next celebration and how to do better at the next race, or next year. There’s always a next year to work towards.”