Dixon focused on cutting title deficit to Helio in Houston

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The last time IndyCar had a doubleheader weekend back in July at the Honda Indy Toronto, Scott Dixon dominated the weekend and swept both races to seemingly set up a championship duel with Helio Castroneves.

But problems in the last two IndyCar events at Sonoma and Baltimore have slowed down what appeared to be his inevitable march toward the Brazilian. Going into this weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, Dixon is 49 points off the pace.

However, the performance of his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda on street circuits this season has him optimistic about his chances at Reliant Park.

“If we can replicate Toronto, that would make things a lot better,” Dixon said this morning. “Looking to do that again isn’t what I’d say impossible but it’s going to be very tough. But it’s something we’ll set our sights on and try to achieve. As far as street courses go, our car has been pretty good recently with Baltimore and Toronto and some of the others – the car definitely has got good speed.

“We’ll try to work out where the track goes this morning and make sure we can focus on just trying to learn the corners and curbs and different parts of it, to get the speed out of the car for qualifying this afternoon. That’s the main goal.”

Like Castroneves, Dixon has never tackled this 10-turn, 1.7-mile layout before (although he did race once on the Houston downtown course that hosted this race from 1998-2001).

He’s done his best to garner as much track knowledge as he can through videos of the 2006 and 2007 Champ Car events at Reliant Park but also noted that he isn’t falling back completely on that.

“The problem with street courses is that every year, it’s different,” he said. “The curbs are slightly different…The track changes a lot and they’ve made corrections to the road or put more drains in or different surface changes.

“You can take in so much, but you must also be willing to have an open mind so you’re not saying, ‘That corner was like that – why is it different?'”

It makes for a formidable wild card as Dixon tries to start reeling in Castroneves this weekend, a task he calls “definitely achievable.” However, he also acknowledges that Castroneves is in the better position – even though Dixon has won a pair of series championships and Castroneves has yet to win one.

“Clearly, the leader at this point probably has the advantage,” Dixon said. “Anything’s possible. You’ve got to keep an open mind and try to achieve. But I don’t think having won championships [in the past] really helps you in another.”

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/