Chris Rattue profiles the New Zealanders who stood out in a truncated sports world in 2020.
"You never dream that he is going to be as successful as he is."
Those were the words of proud mum Glenys Dixon, after her son Scott had secured his sixth IndyCar championship title in October.
The sports world always knew Scott Dixon was good, as evidenced by the stellar backing from a powerful group of New Zealand investors early in his career. But this good?
To have become such a dominant force in one of the most famous racing classes is off the charts. In winning his latest title, Dixon led from start to finish, topping the standings throughout the clipped 14-event season of shortened races.
This was a year like no other, because of Covid-19, and in some ways was made for someone of Dixon's rare craft and cool temperament.
There was a bizarre start to the IndyCar season, with the drivers sent home just before the first scheduled race in Florida, in March, because of the pandemic.
When the series did eventually begin in June, Dixon rocketed ahead in his Chip Ganassi Honda opening up a massive 117-point lead, then had to cling on through a late season fade.
He was at his immaculate best in the final race in Florida, keeping Josef Newgarden – his only challenger – in the sights and finishing third to prevail by 16 points in the championship.
It brought more attention to a racer whose nice-guy image, according to some, means he does not always receive the attention he deserves.
Dixon has been central to IndyCar's restored credibility after American open-wheel racing reunified in 2008. The 40-year-old who was raised in Manurewa has maintained a remarkable level of success in America, where this year's title followed those secured in 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2018.
In a year where sport has been torn apart by Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions, Dixon's triumph stands out amongst Kiwi sporting achievements. It puts him on the cusp of equalling IndyCar's most prized record, with Dixon one title behind A.J. Foyt's record of seven set in the 1960s and 70s.
The records, milestones and accolades keep coming. They include being the first champion aged over 40 since Brit Nigel Mansell won the series in 1993. With 50 race wins, he is third behind Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52).
"Absolutely", said Andretti, the last American to win the Formula One title, when asked by Autoweek if Dixon was a true great.
"You look at his record of championships and wins, and we are absolutely in good company. I love the guy, I love what he stands for. He's definitely one of the best ever."
Dixon often diverts the praise to his family and racing team, in equal doses.
Emma Davies-Dixon, a champion British track runner in her athletics heyday, is someone who dared to dream that her motor racing husband might be something very special.
After Dixon won his fifth title two years ago, she told NBC Sports: "I had such a strong a feeling in my gut that he was something very special and he was here to do something very special.
"As much as we live as husband and wife, I feel like we also live as training partners. My dreams were the same as his.
"I had been around top athletes my whole life, whether it's football or athletics. I knew what it was like when I saw a huge talent.
"He (Dixon) said 'we're so lucky – it's like a dream team. You understand what I'm doing and you push me so hard and sometimes I may have been satisfied just to win three championships'.
"But my gut feeling was that he wasn't there just to win two or three championships, he was there to really put his stamp in motorsports and really live a legacy."
What will that legacy be?
IndyCar appears in great health, with the arrival of Kiwi Supercars legend Scott McLaughlin contributing to the strongest and most interesting field for many years.
Dixon, the sport's finest strategist and fuel manager, will face all sorts of challenges from the super quick Aussie Will Power, the wild Alexander Rossi and more measured performers like Newgarden.
But there is a second tier of talentedd drivers who can win races, along with up-and-comers led by Colton Herta and Patricio O'Ward.
And then there is McLaughlin's fellow rookie, the veteran NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson, a new teammate for Dixon.
There is an enormous amount of personality in that lot, as IndyCar heads towards new frontiers in a more cost-conscious sporting world and the impending introduction of hybrid engines.
And if racing resumes as normal in 2021, Dixon will lose the slight edge he held this year, as IndyCar's smartest competitor dealing with so many new challenges because of Covid-19.
But after torrid year because of the pandemic, Dixon's desire for more success remains as strong as ever.
"It was a strange year emotionally – the unknown was the biggest issue, and not just for me but the mechanics, the team workers" Dixon told Autoweek.
"It was an emotional ride for us all. This one feels extremely special for sure.
"I'm so lucky, so privileged, to do what I love. I get to work with the best in the business.
"The passion is still there, the fire burns hot, maybe one day it will end, it has to, but not right now."
Duncan endured magnificently throughout a stop-start and exhausting season to successfully defend her world motocross title in Covid-hit Europe. The 24-year-old, from Dunedin, completed the deal behind closed doors in Italy, beating Holland's Nancy ven de Ven for the title by virtue of more race wins. Duncan, who had to overcome a bad crash, is now zooming towards a place in the Kiwi sports hall of fame.
The 27-year-old won his third consecutive Supercars title, a truly brilliant achievement in the glamour Australasian motor racing event. Better still, McLaughlin confirmed his fulltime move into IndyCar with the powerful DJR Team Penske organisation. This sets up a tantalizing battle with Dixon. It was a great year for New Zealand motorsport.
The 2019 Sportsman of the Year and flamboyant MMA superstar took his record to 20–0 in defending the UFC middleweight title against Yoel Romero and bitter rival Paulo Costa, the latter being the first title bout between undefeated male UFC fighters for over a decade. Adesanya's world status got a further lift when he was included on the TV commentary team for the exhibition bout between 50-plus boxing legends Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.
There was no fairytale finish – in classic Warriors fashion, they promised plenty but fell short to finish 10th in the NRL. But they delivered in so many areas, their classy Australia-based campaign keeping the NRL afloat during the pandemic. The league nomads also kept a supply of stories coming in a year in which many sports fell into a void. From a sacked coach to an outspoken owner, refereeing complaints and surprising victories, the Warriors kept life interesting.