Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi’s team provided some great theatre for IndyCar by stealing this year’s championship from Juan Pablo Montoya and Team Penske at last weekend’s season-closing race at Sonoma in California’s wine country.
Montoya led the championship all year and was in good shape through the first third of the season finale in Sonoma until IndyCar called an ill-timed and unnecessary full-course yellow which scrambled the field to Montoya’s loss and Dixon’s gain.
A few laps after the restart Montoya collided with team-mate Will Power. Both of them spun and Montoya had to stop for a new front wing. By then the stealthy and persistent Dixon – helped by a superb pitstop – had leaped to the front and drove home to score his third win of the year by a comfortable six seconds from Ryan Hunter-Reay. Montoya finished a somewhat disgruntled sixth, tied on points with Dixon but beaten to the championship by Dixon’s three wins versus JPM’s two.
Montoya grumbled about IndyCar paying double points for the last race, but took it philosophically. “It is what it is,” he shrugged. “Those are the rules and you’ve got play by them.”
Both JPM and team-mate Power were unhappy with the timing of the mid-race yellow at Sonoma. “We’ve got to decide whether we’re a casino or a racing series,” Power complained. “Only about three races this year have been decided on merit because of some of their calls on yellows.”
Nevertheless, Dixon and Ganassi showed yet again that they are the driver and team to beat in IndyCar these days as Dixon won his fourth championship and Ganassi’s team recorded its 100th win and 11th championship. More to the point, Ganassi’s operation has won six of IndyCar’s last eight championships (three with Dixon and three with Dario Franchitti), losing only in 2012 to Hunter-Reay and Michael Andretti’s team and last year to Power and Team Penske.
With Franchitti’s enforced retirement, his friend Dixon has emerged as the top IndyCar driver of the modern era. He’s now won 38 races and is ranked fifth on IndyCar’s all-time winners list behind AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti and Al Unser, and ahead of Bobby Unser and Al Jr. One more win and Dixon will equal Al Sr.
At 35, Dixon has been racing Indycars for 15 years and believes he has many competitive seasons ahead of him. He’s happily married to Emma, a former world-class runner with Team GB, with two young daughters and is an all-round gentleman. Scott is a quiet, humble fellow with a keen sense of humour – everything a sporting hero should be – as well as being a very technically-minded driver and team player who works openly and closely with his team-mates.
Of course, Dixon has also shown his stuff in long-distance sports cars aboard Ganassi’s Daytona Prototypes, winning the Daytona 24 Hours twice in 2006 and 2015. Scott has an ambition to race at Le Mans and with Ganassi’s new multi-car Ford USC and WEC programme he may well get the chance in the near future.
Jim McGee is one of Indycar racing’s most successful crew chiefs, winning 90 races between 1965 and 2008 with the likes of Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Rick Mears, Gordon Johncock, Bobby Rahal, Nigel Mansell and Scott Pruett. McGee retired at the end of 2008 but in recent years he’s worked on weekends as a strategist for Ganassi’s IndyCar team. McGee has closely observed Dixon and says Scott rates right up there with the best drivers he’s worked with over his long career. He also says Ganassi has built a remarkable team.
“Ganassi’s guys do a great job,” McGee says. “They’re really a team in the way they work together. Most teams are split into different factions, but Ganassi’s team is a real team. I haven’t met one person there who isn’t a good guy and that’s a credit to Chip and Mike Hull. Anybody who they don’t feel is a team player, they get rid of him, and the result is they all work together.
“A good example was at Iowa in July. Dixon lost a CV joint during the race and they took the car to the garage and worked on it. Scott was 25 laps down when they went back on the track but he finished 18th and got one point, which was the difference in the end to winning the championship.
“As Chip has said, Scott is the driver of the ages for today’s era. He’s so calculating and so calm. He does not make mistakes and never lets anything rattle him. I’ve never seen the guy upset.
“He’s so laid back in the engineering meetings. He’s always got an up, happy face. You never see him down and you never see him out of control or act like he’s upset. He’s just such a calm person and that resonates all through the team. It keeps everyone under control because they all have so much confidence in him.
“It’s also something that rubs off on the other drivers – Charlie [Kimball], Tony [Kanaan] and Sage [Karam]. Scott brings the whole team together. He’s a role model within the team as far as the work ethic and everything it takes to keep a team motivated and working together.
“In some of the recent races Charlie had a couple of crashes and there were some of Scott’s guys over working on Charlie’s car. And again, like I say, it’s a tribute to Chip and Mike to have that many guys working together. There are no egos in there. Everybody’s there to do their job and that’s why they get results.
“Dixon is a key to all that and Dario is the same way. Dario’s a team player and he brought the same qualities to the team as a driver that Scott does today. But Dario is still there working with the team and the drivers and adding to their success.
“Mike and Chip are the ones who trigger all that because they put the people in the positions they’re in and there’s also a lot of staying power there. Dixon has been with the team for 15 years and there are a lot of people, the nucleus of the team, who have been there a long time. They’ve seen a lot of ups and downs and nobody gets real excited when something happens, whether it’s good or bad.
“I enjoy the people in Chip’s team because there’s no negativity. It’s a nice group of professional, talented, first class people. They know that the more they can help each other, the better the team’s going to be.”
Scott Dixon and Ganassi’s team provide some essential lessons for everyone in motor racing and seem poised to continue doing so for quite a few years to come.