Dixon hopes title chase continues at Indy road course

Tuesday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Scott Dixon asked Dan Wheldon’s sons for driving tips after their go-kart laps around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit. Oliver, who is 11, suggested Dixon try driving deeper into Turn 1.

Dixon laughed. If only it were that easy to win Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES is engaged in another mega-competitive season. Dixon is tied with Josef Newgarden for third place, each trailing Marcus Ericsson by 34 points with five races remaining. Will Power is eight points behind Ericsson in second as the series arrives at the IMS road circuit to begin the five-race sprint. Ericsson is looking to win his first series championship, as his three closest rivals have won nine in their careers.

For all of Dixon’s successes in this series — six season titles, a win in the 2008 Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge and 52 overall race wins — he’s been missing something recently on the IMS road course. that he can’t identify. After four straight top two finishes from 2017 to 2020, including a win, Dixon is averaging 10.75 over the past four races.

Dixon puts the fight on two things.

« Last time we were here it was more of a trial and error in qualifying, » he said. “I think the pace was definitely there, but you only have two laps to get there. I started my first lap badly, then I spun on my second. If you don’t succeed (in qualifying), you will find yourself at the back of the field (he started 21st) and the days when the field had 20 cars are over. Now there are 26 or 27.

“But for me, it’s more the tire (Firestone) that counts (on the road circuits). It’s quite a sensitive tire and my (driving) style is aggravating to aggressive, which doesn’t bode well for it. There are ways around it, and we’ve worked on it in other places – the road course (tyre) is still very natural to me. »

Dixon at least knows he has the experience to race well this weekend, and he is one of six drivers who have competed in all 12 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at the IMS road course. He was also the best season finisher of his generation, with 30 of his 52 race wins after the switch to July. One of those wins came at the Honda Indy Toronto on July 17, and he then finished in the top 5 this past weekend at Iowa Speedway.

Much like his recent struggles on the IMS road course, Dixon can’t explain his late-season success.

“There’s really no reason why it does what it does, but it does what it does, and it’s awesome what it does,” he said with a smile.

If this trend continues over the next six weeks, Dixon will have the opportunity to join AJ Foyt for the most series championships with seven. For many, Dixon is part of a group of title contenders, even s he tries not to see it that way.

« Maybe, but I feel like every weekend now you just focus on that weekend, » he said. “I think it’s very difficult to keep up with the pace these days and say you have to take six races and have a certain (finishing) average. In the past, you might be able to focus on this or that opponent, but those days are over. Look at this year, the proximity between the top six. The gap is quite wide.

“But also, if you look at the last two seasons, if I finish in the top three in the ‘500’, you’re talking about a different (total points). By finishing 21st like this year (due to a speeding penalty on pit road at the end of the race), I think I lost around 70 points to my teammate (76 in fact). Marcus is only 34 points ahead of us. If I had finished in the top 3… we would have we would be leading the championship now. But these are things that could have, should and could, and that doesn’t count.

“Look, Indy is big business for a lot of reasons, but for the championship it’s double points and it’s… really huge. With the current competitiveness, if you have a big (mistake), man, it crushes you. »

To win this championship, Dixon knows he and his No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing team need to keep digging, and he might even take Oliver Wheldon’s advice about driving deeper into Turn 1 in the race. Saturday (noon ET, NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network).

« We just want to keep working hard, » Dixon said. “That’s all we can do. »

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