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Q&A: Scott Dixon on his 2013 IndyCar title

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Scott Dixon embarked on a two-day media tour in New York City last week after winning the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship. I had the chance to speak with Scott in a phone interview to reflect on the season, and his goals as champion.

MotorSportsTalk: Can you speak first on the different eras of your titles, with the multiple chassis/engines in ’03, the single-spec Dallara-Honda in ’08, and now the DW12-Honda/Chevy era we’re in now. Has this current era leveled the playing field and how much harder is it to emerge victorious from this field?

SCOTT DIXON: Yeah I think the competition is still intense. The first year, with different cars, engine manufacturers, and all ovals at that point, I was 22-23 that season and to win the championship was unexpected. We were fast but had a lot of mechanical DNFs, five or six. The consistency was a lot tougher to achieve in 2003. The cars were really fun to drive, and they still are now but slightly different. That year, we hadn’t really understood what we’d achieved.

Of course ’08 was a storybook year. February got married, won the (Indianapolis) 500 in May, the championship in September and it was the first year of the merger (with Champ Car), so straight up it was definitely tougher. We won six races, almost lost the championship at the last race, but it was clearly a fun year. It was something that doesn’t happen too often.

This year, we never really knew if we were in it. We were eighth going into Indy but the run at Pocono and Toronto was huge. Sonoma and Baltimore were tough. Going into Fontana, you hoped you didn’t have same issue that Helio (Castroneves) had with his mechanical at Houston. Their combination would be very strong at Fontana. Hold on with teeth clenched the whole time. When we did clinch, it was pretty sweet.

MST: You raced Helio for the title and besides him, who did you enjoy racing with most this year?

SD: In the latter part of season, it was definitely Will (Power). We had a lot of close races, but we battled up front a lot. I think if you look at Sonoma, Baltimore, Houston, our cars were fantastic and we could gap the field. Those two cars were the stand outs. It’s always fun to race Dario (Franchitti) too, but the last part of the season, we were fighting for a title and Will wasn’t, so we still had to make the gains and the points. The racing was full-on.

MST: That being said, you and Will obviously had your moments during that run. With the month off between Baltimore and Houston, did that help calm you down or did you wish there had been another race the next week?

SD: Yeah I think when you’re on a roll with speed and you have a competitive car – I mean we still had good momentum – you want to get straight back to the track. That’s about how it always is. I love the back-to-back races. It can get a bit grueling and if you’re down and out it can be a bit frustrating. But, it was somewhat nice to have a week to clear the air, think about what went on, and figure out how to better the situation. For me the situation was just wanting to get back, and I did do the GRAND-AM race the next weekend at Laguna so that helped.

MST: Looking past the wins for a moment, what races do you feel were missed opportunities and were there ones were you felt you overachieved?

SD: I think St. Pete was the tough one. It was a definite eye-opener after offseason testing coming into first race, because qualifying straight up in 20th is not what we expected. We didn’t overachieve necessarily but we did a great race to pull fifth, and just managed that.

The one that disappointed me the most this year was Mid-Ohio. The car was good but we picked the wrong strategy and switched too late. Long Beach, we missed there as well. Brazil, our car was decent but had a bit of trouble there.

One of the funnest races was Detroit. We had the incident in Race 1 with (AJ) Allmendinger going over the back of us, going to the back and racing all the way to fourth spot, was very cool. Then the way Race 2 shook out, we were off strategy, but still managed another decent place.

MST: You’ve been with Target Chip Ganassi Racing now 12 years, since 2002. How have you survived and thrived as long as you have within this organization?

SD: It’s bred into it, man. It’s such a fun team to be involved with. There’s not a huge amount of politics – there are some in every team – but it’s straight up wanting to win. They give you the tools, an engineer, a driver, and you get their best. You can make it happen. It’s the winning atmosphere at the team, upper management to the teams. It’s a fun environment. We forget that we’re out here getting to do something we absolutely love and really enjoy it. We have achieved a lot between Dario and myself over five years, and some great stats.

MST: Two people that have to stand out are Mike Hull, your team manager on your radio, and crew chief Ricky Davis. Can you speak a bit about the dynamic you have with them?

SD: Mike’s a good friend, and that’s the great thing for having 12 years here is building and developing relationships. They’re family. Mike’s been here all but two years on my car, I think except the Darren Manning/(Ryan) Briscoe era (2004-’05) when they came in. We all have the same goals. There’s no alternative situations that people are trying to achieve.

Mike and I, we really work well off each other with banter. He can keep me going or work me up and vice versa. But it’s good to have a calm voice if it’s a bit chaotic. Sometimes he gets wound up. There were a few circumstances this year when it happened. He’s a key part of the operation and Chip’s very lucky to have him.

Ricky’s a solid guy. Been there from the word go once I started my second or third year with the team, after I’d been at PacWest. He works well with the guys, and he’s hugely competitive as well.

MST: How do you rate the years of your teammates Dario and Charlie (Kimball)?

SD: Charlie has come on, leaps and bounds, to get where he is now. Especially with how he did it at Mid-Ohio. They knuckled down, and he raced his way to the front at such a challenging place. Then Fontana the last race, he was driving to win. You could see it. Pocono he gave us a bloody tough run for the win too. It’s good to have great teammates. They all do something a little different. Charlie’s been a huge addition.

Dario had a good year; he won the most poles so he was as quick as he ever was. Some of the races and strategy didn’t go how you like. But he’s always solid, pushes me to the max, and we work extremely well together. He’s one of the best teammates anyone could have.

MST: You now have the role, as champion, of “carrying the torch” as an IndyCar ambassador more or less. What are some things you’d like to do or accomplish over this offseason?

SD: For us it’s just getting us out there in the public eye. We need to do more events and cross into different genres, whether it’s football promotions, tennis or whatever. It’s tougher now because for me, I grew up working on my car and changing things on it as a kid. But in the real world today, kids are into electronics and you don’t see the “boy racer” as much as you used to.

You need to know how the trends are going, and I think IndyCar needs to work on that a lot. Our racing product is not the issue. It’s getting it into the public eye, and seeing how good it is.

MST: Your sponsor, Target, made some memorable and legendary ads back in the ’90s; is that something you could see them bringing back?

SD: Yeah man the Target ads were great, and we did some in the early 2000s when I joined up. It’s trying to make sure it’s valuable for everyone. But the topical ones with Jimmy Vasser and (Alex) Zanardi, everybody loves. I hope it’s on the horizon, and Target’s always pushing with all the billboards and stuff throughout North America.

Rosberg leads as Ricciardo debuts new Aeroscreen in Russia FP1

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Like in preseason testing, Mercedes AMG Petronas topped the timesheets in first practice for the Russian Grand Prix but the story of the session was elsewhere as one of the new cockpit enhanced devices made its debut at the start of practice.

Nico Rosberg was fastest in the W07 at 1:38.127 on Pirelli’s supersoft compound, while Daniel Ricciardo introduced Red Bull Racing’s new Aeroscreen to the world for an installation lap.

The device was installed on Thursday and Ricciardo rolled out with it to start practice. Following an installation lap it was back to removing the device and running in standard configuration. The Aeroscreen is one of two cockpit enhancement devices to have made its debut this year, Kimi Raikkonen having rolled out the “Halo” concept at Barcelona for preseason testing.

Alas in practice, several drivers spun on the low-grip Sochi Autodrom circuit – Lewis Hamilton at Turn 2, Jenson Button at Turn 15 and Sebastian Vettel at the same corner shortly thereafter, and local hero Danill Kvyat later in the session at Turn 17. Jolyon Palmer also had a spin at Turn 17 just after the checkered flag.

Further down the grid Manor Racing had a difficult start to the session with a floor change on Pascal Wehrlein’s chassis and an unspecified technical issue for teammate Rio Haryanto. Both made it out for some laps later in the session.

Rosberg topped Hamilton by 0.722 of a second with Vettel third, Raikkonen fourth and Felipe Massa fifth. Ricciardo was sixth in his usual car configuration.

Two drivers stepped in for race drivers this session, with Russian Sergey Sirotkin ending a respectable 13th in his debut with the team in FP1.

That being said, his number choice of 46 inspired Kevin Magnussen, who was sidelined for the session, to throw a bit of shade on Sirotkin after getting the Romain Grosjean treatment in sitting out.

Alfonso Celis Jr. also ran for Sahara Force India in place of Nico Hulkenberg and propped up the timesheets, 5.305 seconds off Rosberg and a full 3.1 seconds and change behind teammate Sergio Perez in ninth.

Times are below. You can see FP2 live on NBCSN from 7 a.m. ET, and also via live stream on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Ricciardo debuts Aeroscreen in FP1 in Russia (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has rolled out with the team’s new Aeroscreen, the windshield cockpit device making its formal debut during FP1 for the Russian Grand Prix.

The Australian started the session with the device, ran an installation lap and then brought it in the pits. Once under normal chassis conditions, he ended sixth.

The device is one of a couple being tested in preparation for possible 2017 enhanced cockpit protection, which go along with the regulations, to see the driver cockpit area continue to be improved for safety purposes.

Quick photos of Ricciardo’s rollout are below, along with a couple videos released by Red Bull of the Aeroscreen being tested:

More to follow later today.

Hawksworth’s team’s labor hasn’t yet borne fruit of better results

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What do Jack Hawksworth and Allen Iverson have in common?

Practice, man.

“The Answer’s” famous – or perhaps infamous – “We talkin’ ‘bout practice, man” riff a number of years ago remains the go-to line whenever practice comes up in conversation.

It’s practice where the seeds of success are sown for a team when it comes to game day.

And for Hawksworth and the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, it’s been practice where the team has starred in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series.

But thus far, following practice, it’s been a case where the rest of the weekend has gone downhill for a variety of small but niggling reasons.

“If it was based off practice one I’d be leading the points!” Hawksworth told NBC Sports Thursday, and the thing is, he’s not joking.

In the three road or street course races this season, Hawksworth has ended second (St. Petersburg), third (Long Beach) and second (Barber) in first practice.

He’s followed it up with fellow top-10 runs in second practice of eighth, ninth and second again, respectively.

But come qualifying, it’s gone awry.

Starts of ninth, 20th and 14th have followed and in the races, it’s gone even worse with results lower than his grid spot: 11th, 21st and 19th. Toss out the Phoenix oval, because that was a nightmare weekend for him.

If ever there was a case where stats are misleading, it’s here, because Hawksworth and the team are clearly better than what they’ve been able to produce results-wise this year, and also far more gelled as a unit now compared to where they were 12 months ago as a new collective group.

“Our team is full of good people; we really believe in the 41 garage,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work over the winter. We haven’t seen the fruits of it yet.

“It looks like we’re a long way away, but we’re incredibly close. It’s a few small details, little tweaks and we’ll be at the front. It’s imminent. We’ve not shown it yet but we know it’s coming.”

The big change occurred this weekend was seeing Daniele Cucchiaroni promoted to lead race engineer on the No. 41 car, replacing the departed Dan Hobbs.

Hawksworth and Cucchiaroni worked together at Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and he joined the Foyt team last year with Takuma Sato’s effort. Hawksworth called him one of the brightest minds in the paddock.

He said it’s not the operating window of the Honda aero kit that the team has missed, but it has just missed getting the setup right for the qualifying and the race, where mere thousandths of a second make a difference.

“The cars are sensitive to track temperature… the conditions… it’s easy to get outside the window, but our problem hasn’t been balance or anything,” he said.

“You’re completely right in that we’ve had very quick cars at times. We haven’t understood the (Firestone) reds yet. Really, it’s just executing the qualifying and the race, with having a quick car and right car. It sounds crazy, but it’s worked out that way.

“There’s many reasons for that. We’re narrowing them down for the next couple races. It’s just small but vital things that have tripped us up. It’s been frustrating. Different at each race as well.”

Hawksworth also said he was doing everything possible to get out of the way at Barber when leaders Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were trying to overtake him in the final stages.

“What happened there was a funny deal. To be honest, with the day we were having, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of leaders,” he said.

“I really don’t care who wins if it’s not me. But for courtesy, you don’t want to wreck the leaders.

“So I ducked out of Turn 5 to go to the left, that was the only place I could go. I saw Graham and Simon were side-by-side. If I’d have gone to the outside or stayed in the middle I’d have caused a crash. The only place to go was the inside. Rahal tried to get a tow off of me but he misjudged it and clipped my rear pods. That’s just racing.”

Hawksworth’s race was compromised to begin with when Mikhail Aleshin on the start clipped him, after Carlos Munoz clipped Aleshin. All three had to restart at the back of the field.

“The problem is mate, when you qualify (poorly), you’re in the middle of the pack. So we were on the bad side of the 26 and the 7, then you go to the back and toss around all day… much the story of our season.

“I spoke to Brian (Barnhart, Race Director) about it. The rule is, if you don’t reclaim your position by start of the pace lap, you automatically start at the back. With me being at the back, but going onto the grass to avoid running into the side of Aleshin, they deemed that the pace lap. It was a rules thing.”

Hawksworth said he’d like to see the gray areas of the rulebook examined for future use to try to remove warnings and unclear calls as best as possible.

“I’d beat on the drum of making it as black and white as possible. If you cross a line, you cross a line. We need to simplify the rules as much as we can to where things are a straightforward decision. There still seems to be a bit of the gray area.

“Still, it’s up to the series. It’d be easier for them too (to go black and white).”

Heading into May, Hawksworth sits 20th in points (50 points) while Takuma Sato is 40 points ahead, but in ninth.

Hawksworth’s season to date:

	FP1	FP2	FP3	QUAL	WU	RACE
STP	2	8	2	9	21	11
PHX	22	21	-	17	-	19
LB	3	9	11	20	17	21
BAR	2	2	11	14	8	19

Hakkinen sure Rosberg is ready to become F1 world champion

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 17:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates his win with his team during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 17, 2016 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Two-time Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen believes that current series leader Nico Rosberg is now ready to follow in his footsteps and win his first title in 2016.

Rosberg has finished second to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the past two seasons, taking the championship to the final round in 2014.

Having won the last six grands prix, Rosberg is in the form of his career and is the early leader in the 2016 championship, enjoying a 36-point advantage over Hamilton after three races.

Rosberg has cooled talk of the championship with 18 races still to go in the season, but Hakkinen now believes the German is ready to win his first world title.

“I remember how he walked around as a four or five-year-old with a small helmet in his hand,” Hakkinen told Spox.

“When I see him now, I’m very proud of him. He has developed fantastically. He has became a man and a father with the responsibility of a family.

“What many people underestimate [is that] the path to being world class is incredibly long, arduous and painful. The emphasis is on pain. Since it does not matter if your own father himself was world champion or not.

“Although he has his friends and family on the side, at the end you are still alone, with an immense burden, especially mentally, to cope.

“The physique and talent were always there. Now he has the goal clearly in mind and says with conviction: ‘Yes, I want to become world champion!’ He has risen to the challenge.

“Therefore my answer is yes, he is ready for the world title.”