A decade has passed since Scott Dixon became the first New Zealander to win the Indianapolis 500.

It was a breakthrough and career-altering IndyCars win still rather early in his professional career.

Much has happened since. Dixon has won three more championships to make a career total of four, has moved to fourth all-time in terms of IndyCars race wins and is generally considered the finest driver of his era.

As the 37-year-old prepares for this year's running of the famous race, he looks back fondly at his break-through win.


"It is definitely the biggest race in the world and to be on a shortlist of less than 70 people that have won it is something I will always cherish," Dixon told the Weekend Herald.

"The problem with winning one is that it pushes you and drives you to grab a second. We have come close three or four times with a couple of runner-up spots but still fighting to win a second Indianapolis 500."

Of the 33 drivers to start the race at the famous Brickyard oval on Monday morning (NZT) only Helio Castro-neves has multiple Indy 500 wins.

By adding a second to his sparkling resume, Dixon will ensure he is remembered as one of the true greats of the sport.

But it isn't simply a case of replicating what worked in 2008.

"The only thing that stood out about that one was that it was a flawless month - from being fastest most of the practice sessions, winning the pit stop competition, getting the pole and then leading for over half the race," Dixon explained. "It was one of those months that was flawless.

"We have had similar ones leading up to the race but there have been times we have basically had it in the bag but then made a silly mistake on the amount of fuel we have put in the car and watched it slip away.

"The format of the race, the cars, the engines are all very different every year. You can't really try to emulate what you did back then and chase the current targets."

It is incredibly hard to win the Indianapolis 500. Legendary driver Michael Andretti led an astonishing number of laps at the place but never got to stand in victory lane.

His iconic father, Mario, won just once over a long and storied racing career while modern day greats such as Will Power and Sebastien Bourdais have never triumphed despite winning a stack of races elsewhere.

"It is the length of the race, a field of 33 so more competitors, there is a lot more practice time there, and you only get to do it once a year," Dixon said.

"There is a lot of pressure as well - not just on myself as the driver but on the team as well.

"It is a combination of many things that makes that race so difficult to win."

Luck needs to be on your side as well. Drivers often talk about buying a ticket to the final stint of the race, once pit stops are completed and it comes down to having the right car set-up and strategy when the race is on the line.

In many ways it is a case of survival to that point. It is especially easy to get caught up in an incident in oval racing as Dixon found out last year.

"I feel like you make your own luck a lot of the time," he said.

"Last year I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and had a major accident through no fault of my own.

"Luck does play a little bit of a role here and there.

"You just have to focus on the job in front of you and do the best possible job you can do and be there at the end of the day."

The South Auckland product qualified his Chip Ganassi Honda ninth fastest and will start off the third row in his 16th attempt at America's favourite race.

Although he has looked stronger going into previous Indianapolis 500s, Dixon is confident he can be a contender again this season.

"It is always a little bit hard to know. The aero kit this year is different and is providing some challenges. It seems a lot harder to follow closely and pass cars, which may make it more of a track position race.

"That could flip quickly if you get a lot of green stints and strategy plays into a fuel race.

"I feel like we are strong. We were ninth and just made the fast nine but there were only two Hondas that made the fast nine so maybe our opposition has an upper hand at the minute but maybe our race package will be as strong to give ourselves a fighting chance we need."

Indianapolis 500 fast facts

• 102nd running of the race (first in 1911).
• 200 laps, 500 miles.
• 33 starters.
• 36 sets of tyres allocated for the event.
• Helio Castroneves the only multiple winner (3 times) starting this year.
• Since 1936 winners have been given a quart of milk in victory lane.
• The cash prize on offer is one of the richest in sports (2017 winner Takuma Sato earned $3.549m).
• A crowd in excess of 300,000 is expected.