Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon has a wonderful problem. It comes in the form of finding new ways to entertain himself after winning five IndyCar Series championships.
Earning IndyCar titles in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, and 2018 has vaulted the Indiana-based New Zealander to the exclusive club of all-time greats, and despite all he’s achieved, there’s one accolade that remains missing.
“I’ve never had a repeat, so that’s something I need to rectify and work on a little bit more. We’ve come close a couple of times, but there’s always been these three- or five-year gaps. I know… I’m probably sounding a little selfish right now,” he tells RACER, flashing a wry smile for punctuation.
Coming off a year where the 38-year-old took down all of IndyCar’s biggest names on his own – the multi-car teams from Andretti Autosport and Team Penske, in particular – the Kiwi could deliver on that back-to-back goal thanks to the arrival of a new teammate.
Dixon’s most recent title came with a young and relatively inexperienced driver in the sister Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Although hopes were high, we’d quickly learn IndyCar sophomore Ed Jones needed more time to develop his craft before assisting Dixon’s championship chase became a reasonable expectation.
Jones’ replacement, rookie Felix Rosenqvist, has fewer miles in an IndyCar, but possesses a level of talent that many – including Dixon – believe will make the Swede more of an instant threat. With the potential for two Ganassi Hondas running towards the front of the field, taking points away from their rivals could balance the odds during Dixon’s quest for a sixth championship.
“It’s always a process, right?” he says. “No matter the end result we had, there were some pretty big holes in our program last year that we’re trying to fix on our side. So, I think there is room for a lot of opportunity and improvement. We didn’t really have any help from the teammate, though, so if we’re stronger as a two-car unit, it can only make our lives better.”
In the 27-year-old Rosenqvist, there’s a belief that Chip Ganassi Racing could also have its successor to Dixon whenever the 2008 Indy 500 winner decides to file the final chapter on his IndyCar career.
A person driven by neurosis or self-doubt might view the native of Vaxjo as a threat to his throne.
“No, for me, those are the best partnerships,” Dixon says. “I think back to how lucky I was when I worked with Dario Franchitti. We had a very good run going there where we pushed each other, we won a lot of races and championships together, and I had that with other teammates, too. And that is the hope with Felix. He could be the future of the team, which is a lot of pressure for him, too, but it’s also a huge opportunity. And that’s when you’ve really got to make the most of it. So, I hope he does, because I like Felix. He is a huge talent.”
As Dixon prepares to embark on his 19th IndyCar season, the veteran will look to shed any mental baggage that might slow his forward progress. Finding motivation, with so much success already in hand, could make summoning the fire to keep IndyCar’s next-generation stars at bay a challenge that’s uniquely his own.
“I see it as a reset; things are always changing with new tracks we go to, new tires; the competition’s going to change,” he says. “So, I don’t really drag a feeling of all the years with me. Each one is new, even though I’m more experienced with each year, so that’s the perspective I use to keep things fresh.
“And coming off a championship, it gives you a lot of inner confidence. Obviously, for me, the first championship was quite defining because it told me I could be a champion. And everything we’ve achieved together in the past, and again recently, has only added to that confidence. But if you’re searching for motivation, you know that what we did last year doesn’t count for anything. They don’t give you extra points to start the year because you’re the champion. I’m at zero points like the rest.”
If Dixon is able to secure that sixth IndyCar title and add ‘back-to-back champion’ to an embarrassingly long list of feats, he’ll also set a new personal standard that speaks to his prodigious and versatile gifts behind the steering wheel.
His first championship came in a 2003 GForce-Toyota Indy Racing League chassis that only raced on ovals. His second was earned with a 2008 Dallara-Honda chassis designed for ovals that was modified to compete on road and street courses. His third was delivered in a turbocharged 2013 Dallara-Chevy created for road courses, along with ovals, using spec bodywork. His fourth came in with the same Dallara-Chevy, albeit with custom high-downforce ‘manufacturer’ bodywork, and in 2018, he used a turbo Dallara-Honda, dressed in the new, lower-downforce ‘universal aero kit’ spec bodywork, to secure the IndyCar crown.
Five championships, produced with in distinctly different eras of chassis, engine, and aerodynamic combinations, epitomizes Dixon’s innate skills. Capable of driving anything into Victory Lane, winning the 2019 championship would also serve as the first time he’s earned a title in the same style of Indy car.
“I think that really shows the team’s strength, too,” he says, deflecting praise toward CGR. “I think it shows how they can adapt the process that they go through. But it’s been done very different ways, too, right? We were very strong in the road courses before, and with the road course program last year, we weren’t very good, especially in qualifying. We ended up with good race cars, but we really didn’t figure out how to get the peak qualifying performance out of it.”
In recounting CGR’s performance shortcomings from 2018, IndyCar’s most complete driver revealed another unfulfilled goal. The sport’s elite athletes tend to be the most self-critical, and even after 18 seasons in IndyCar, Dixon sees himself as a work in progress.
“So is it coincidence that we can take too long to find the speed?” he asks. “I don’t know, but I like to adapt. That’s probably sometimes a lot of my downside. I’ll try to adapt to a problem as opposed to fixing it, so maybe it takes longer in some weekend for us to get the car’s handling where I need it to be.
“So that’s another thing for me to improve. I need to try and fix the problem as opposed to driving around it. If you’re honest, you’re never really done working on yourself.”