Kiwi star looks to overtake the gremlins

By Eric Thompson

Kiwi star looks to overtake the gremlins

He had a bad run last season, but Scott Dixon and his team boss are confident he will produce the goods this year. Photo / Getty
He had a bad run last season, but Scott Dixon and his team boss are confident he will produce the goods this year. Photo / Getty

As the IndyCar circus arrives in St Petersburg, Florida, for the start of this year's championship series, one of New Zealand's top professional motor racing drivers, Scott Dixon, is again a favourite to take the title.

He's finished in the top three every year since 2007, the standout being 2008 when he won the series and became the first New Zealander to win the Indianapolis 500.

Dixon has been at the Ganassi outfit since the 2002 CART season, and for the fifth year in a row, his teammate will be Dario Franchitti.

Between them, they have won six championship titles in 10 years and as Ganassi said, "How do you bet against these guys going into the season?"

Last year, Dixon finished second at St Pete's and early on in the season looked to be on track for his third IndyCar title until the mechanical gremlins struck.

The Kiwi had more DNFs in that season than he's probably had in his entire career and was either at the front of the field or parked up.

With so many non-point-scoring races it is even more remarkable the Kiwi still finished in third place in the championship.

"We were quick at times last year but a few things went wrong," said Dixon. "It seems we're always in the hunt, but we've only got one championship."

"It's frustrating, but it goes to show just how good the competition is. If you keep knocking on the door eventually it'll open. It's hard to swallow, though, that at times it's the smallest of things that get in the way.

"If reliability was better last year and we didn't get that silly call at Milwaukee, we could have been there instead of 35 points off the championship. That's frustrating."

This is the second year of the new Dallara DW12 car, and the niggling problems of last year should have been sorted. The only drawback is that not all the teams have had the same amount of testing available to them before the opening race in St Pete's.

"We didn't have as much time in the car in the off season as we did last year," said Dixon. "The last test [just over a week ago] at Barber didn't go too badly and we were top of the sheets for a while.

"It was okay for the most, but we spent a lot of time trying to get the engine right because towards the end of the day the Chevy engines seemed to dominate the top 10."

The consensus appears to be that the team is doing all right, but needs to get a better handle on the Honda engine. There were reliability and driveability issues last year, and although improvements have been made, it looks as though the Chevy-powered cars have the edge.

But it should never be forgotten testing and practice is just that. Racing is another ball game.

"It's hard to tell exactly how you're going until you get to the race and the lights go out," said Dixon. "The formula is so restricted these days that it's almost like going spec racing.

"You can change the aero package a little as well as changing the dampeners, but that's about all. With all the different disciplines [short tracks, super speedways, road courses and street courses] there's a lot going on.

"It's going to be as tough as hell but the racing is going to be really good. It's the best series for watching racing but the TV deal is rubbish."

An added difficulty is that this is the last year on the current engines, so it wouldn't be too long a bow to draw to suggest Honda may not be keen to put a lot of energy into further development of the power plant.

Couple this possible factor with rumours that Honda may be making a comeback in Formula One would suggest a bigger push in the development of smaller turbo charged engines, as both categories will be using a similar type of engine in the future.

"What makes it interesting is that the engine we used at Barber we have to use for the first four races," Dixon said. "Because we're locked in for so long with the same engine the development cycle is that much slower. You're not just giving up on one or two races but three or four now if you're behind the others. Honda seem to think they can help the engine going into St Pete's, so we'll just have to wait and see.

"I'm not sure it's going to be the amount we would really like, but I'm optimistic it'll be all good."

Dixon was on the track in January during the Grand-Am Series 24 hour auto race at Daytona, driving the Ganassi Racing BMW Riley car. He is still at the peak of his career, and has the peace of mind of having signed a contract extension with Ganassi, so he can be counted on to be a contender for this year's title.

He's also one of three active IndyCar drivers with an Indy 500 win to his name, and with an average 500 finish of 3.8 in the past five years, he could add another likeness of himself to the Borg-Warner Trophy.

- NZ Herald

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