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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.

Helmut Marko: Modern-day F1 drivers are overpaid

xxxx during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Austria at Red Bull Ring on June 19, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.
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Red Bull Racing team advisor Helmut Marko believes that modern-day Formula 1 drivers are overpaid due to the reduced risk and easier driving conditions they experience.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel are two of the highest-paid drivers on the grid in 2016, earning upwards of $30 million per year from their teams.

However, Marko believes that drivers in F1 are overpaid as there is now a reduced risk of suffering a fatal accident, and that with the cars being easier to drive, their worth has decreased.

“Basically, the drivers of today are definitely overpaid for two reasons,” Marko told Sport Bild in Germany.

“Firstly, there is only a small risk that serious accidents can result in injury or even be fatal.

“Secondly, young top talent like [Max] Verstappen or [Pascal] Wehrlein can take the modern car and straight away easily do 100 laps without tiring.

“Previously you had even a Vettel have to take breaks because he was not used to the high centrifugal forces. This means that the cars are easier to drive. The drivers must do less.”

Wolff: Wehrlein, Ocon deserve Formula 1 roles

SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - JUNE 23:  Pascal Wehrlein of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during Formula One testing at the Red Bull Ring on June 23, 2015 in Spielberg, Austria.  (Photo by Andrew Hone/Getty Images)
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Mercedes AMG Petronas team boss Toto Wolff believes that junior talents Pascal Wehrlein and Esteban Ocon have both earned their roles in Formula 1 for the 2016 season “on merit”.

Wehrlein will make his grand prix debut in 2016 with Manor Racing after winning the DTM title for Mercedes last year, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the series.

Ocon has been loaned to Renault Sport F1 Racing for its comeback season, and will work as the team’s reserve driver following his GP3 title success last year.

Wolff feels that both drivers deserve their chance in F1 this year, and also said that Mercedes will look to expand its junior program across the course of the season.

“We’re delighted that Pascal and Esteban will tackle a fresh set of challenges in 2016,” Wolff said. “Our aim is to build their experience in the best possible environment and, following positive discussions with our counterparts at Manor and Renault, it became clear that their respective Formula 1 programmes presented ideal opportunities to achieve that.

“It is very pleasing to see young drivers earning their spot in Formula 1 on merit and to see that talent is being rewarded by the system. Pascal and Esteban have proven themselves to be amongst the top young drivers out there – and both come into 2016 as champions of their respective series.

“But they still have plenty to learn and they will be staying humble, with their feet on the ground. This is an important year for them and we will be following their progress with great interest, while also looking to expand our junior program.

“Mercedes-Benz has a strong tradition of developing young racing talent and our eyes are very much open to other promising prospects for the future.”

Social roundup: When Mika Hakkinen met CJ Wilson, and other cool shots

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 15:  Former F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen is seen during practice for the Chinese Formula One Grand Prix at the Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2011 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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What happens when you put a McLaren P1 owned by baseball star and CJ Wilson Racing team principal, and occasional driver, CJ Wilson, with two-time F1 World Champion Mika Hakkinen, and you turn them loose at The Thermal Club for a track day?

Pure awesomeness.

Of course there’s other cars besides the McLaren and hockey legend, Teemu Selanne, was also on site.

This really isn’t a post so much that needs words, but one that does need proper photos and noise.

The CJWR pairing of Marc Miller and Daniel Burkett, who drive the No. 33 One Capital/Motor Oil Matters Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport dubbed “Darth Cayman” in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, have been coaching and driving at an event this weekend out at The Thermal Club, a luxury race track in California.

See a mix of photos and videos below:

Ecclestone gives Monza until end of February to resolve F1 future

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 06:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates on the podium next to Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Ferrari after winning the Formula One Grand Prix of Italy at Autodromo di Monza on September 6, 2015 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone has given officials at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza until the end of February to resolve the future of the Italian Grand Prix.

Monza has hosted the Italian Grand Prix for all but one year since 1950 when the F1 world championship was formed, establishing itself as one of the series’ most historic and legendary venues.

However, its future has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months following a cut in the amount of tax relief that the race receives by the Italian government.

Ecclestone said back in November that he had “no doubts” the race would remain on the calendar and extend its contract beyond the end of 2016 when it expires.

However, the 85-year-old has now cast fresh doubt on the race in an interview with Reuters, giving the circuit until the end of February to resolve its future.

“It’s Italian. A lot of conversations at the moment and not much action,” Ecclestone said.

“They said to me a few months ago: ‘Everything is sorted out, we know exactly where we are and it’s all agreed and no dramas.’

“And now I heard yesterday it’s become very political… They’ll get on with it. Or not. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Nothing we can do about it.

“The only people that can sort this out are the people that are currently involved in Italy. They can take as long as they like, provided it’s by the end of this month.”

The 2016 Italian Grand Prix is set to take place at Monza on September 4.