The last time Scott Dixon finished behind a Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, it was 2011 as Dario Franchitti went on to score his fourth and final IndyCar Series championship.
With that 10-year gap in mind, Dixon finds himself in a strange and unfamiliar position as new teammate Alex Palou is on the cusp of earning his first NTT IndyCar Series title while CGR’s usual standard bearer sits fourth in the standings, eliminated from the title race.
Coming off a 2020 season where the New Zealander eared his sixth championship in spectacular style by leading the points from start to finish, his quest for a seventh crown has been solid, but also slightly off the high expectations for the defending title winner.
Dixon could rise from fourth in the championship to third if all goes well on Sunday during the last IndyCar race of the year. Speaking on Friday, one gets the impression he’s burning to press the fast-forward button and get to the start of the 2022 season in February where a new opportunity to reclaim first place in CGR’s internal pecking order exists.
“It’s just been a ‘blah’ year, which you can always have; you can’t always win,” Dixon told RACER. “On a positive side, what’s been really important is seeing the success of the team on many different fronts, whether it’s with Alex, or Marcus [Ericsson] or Jimmie [Johnson] and his progression. I think all of that stuff’s been huge for team morale to see the team, as a whole, become much stronger.
“For our side, I think there’s definitely a low-track-grip-and-tire combo that we’re struggling with at the moment, whereas some of the other guys, it’s maybe not so much of an issue. And if you knew exactly what the problem was to fix, then you wouldn’t have the problem, right? So, we’ve definitely got a long offseason to look at some things and get them sorted out.”
The polesitter of May’s Indianapolis 500 was on pace to vie for another championship as the early stages of the new season played out. A win and four top 5s had the No. 9 Honda leading the championship entering the 500, but misfortune struck and a few more poor finishes created mid-season separation that ultimately proved to be too much to overcome.
“You look at Indy,” Dixon said. “We lost I think 50 or 60 points alone to Alex just in that one race, and then Detroit, we got screwed in qualifying with the red flag which would have put us on the front row, so you can go through so many different segments of the year of saying, ‘Well, if we’d just done this a little bit different, it would have changed the course of how the year progressed,’ and yes, it’s frustrating, but it’s also part of the sport. The good and positive thing is that if we’re not doing it with the No. 9 car, our team is still doing it. Alex is in a prime position to win a championship which is huge for Ganassi, huge for Honda and our sponsors.”
Looking at the big picture, the team veteran is taking the No. 9’s “off year” in stride.
“This team’s family, man; I’ve been here for 20 years and there have been some dry spells, personally, but again, I think it’s been a really positive year for us as a group,” Dixon noted. “When Alex wins, or Marcus wins, we all win. Of course it’s disappointing if it’s not yourself; racing drivers are selfish, right? You want to be the one winning for your boss all the time. But I’ve been in these situations before, and many of us have, where the individual isn’t as important as the bigger goal.”
Dixon will never know how to be truly comfortable with another human being, let alone a teammate, finishing ahead of him in the IndyCar championship. In Palou, he has an imposing puzzle to solve next season, but no, for those who were wondering, there’s no animosity aimed at the Spaniard who wears a permanent smile.
“No, not in the least,” Dixon said. “I’m glad I put my hand up to say, ‘You’ve got to go for this guy’ when Chip was looking for a new driver, and Alex was proven to be good. Maybe I should get a cut of the deal…”