Scott Dixon says he drew little comfort from the first-lap incident that derailed Alexander Rossi’s day in Sonoma, and ultimately helped the New Zealander become the first five-time IndyCar champion in more than half a century.
Rossi went a lap down after being forced to pit for repairs to damage sustained when he tagged the back of teammate Marco Andretti’s car. It was an enormous setback on a day when Rossi already needed much to fall in his favor to prevent the championship going Dixon’s way, but Dixon said that Rossi’s problem did nothing to ease the pressure.
“With IndyCar racing, you think somebody that has a problem in the first corner, they tend to go on and win the race,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, no. I’ve been in that situation. Please, let that not be today.’
“I didn’t obviously see that part of the start. The team came on as I exited the Carousel in Turn 6 and said, ‘There’s going to be some cars coming back in seven that have taken a shortcut, a damaged car.’ I could see it was Rossi. That was the first thing that clicked in: ‘Man, he’s going to have a good day, return, fix the car, have a strong strategy and come through.’
“I followed it on the pylon. I could see how he was moving up. He’s a fierce competitor. So is Michael [Andretti] and everybody at that team. We saw that those cars had tremendous speed, from [race winner Ryan] Hunter-Reay that was controlling the pace today. There was no point that I wasn’t worried about that situation.”
All but the most convoluted points permutations suggested that Dixon went into this weekend as the heavy championship favorite, but Dixon himself was less confident, in no small part because of a general weakness in qualifying on road courses this year. Narrowly missing out on pole to Hunter-Reay was proof of the gains made in that department, but Dixon said that he still didn’t allow himself to enjoy his advantage until the checkered flag.
“Coming into these races, you’re full of emotions,” he said. “Hopefully not just myself, but the whole field. Coming into the last race with the points lead, you just try to obviously not mess it up, have a good shot.
“I thought we had a lot weighed against us in the fact we hadn’t done really too well in qualifying, especially for these road courses throughout the season. That was the main focus. Got to give huge credit to the team. They kind of just went on a wholesale change, everything worked out perfectly, the car had some great speed.
“But today… it’s so weird. You always doubt the situation that you’re in, at least I have, maybe from the past years where we’ve lost championships over sometimes silly things, or sometimes where we just haven’t executed well. The whole race I was thinking about things that were out of our control, cautions that were going to flip the field. None of that happened.
“It was a very smooth race, but mentally it was tough and draining. It’s amazing to be in this situation, fifth championship. I can’t thank my family enough.”
Dixon’s fifth championship leaves him second only to A.J. Foyt’s seven on the all-time list.