Scott Dixon, Bobby Unser two legends in different ways, now equal on wins

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One was – and still is – known for being one of the most candid, outspoken but iconic voices and drivers in North American open-wheel history.

The other is the “Iceman” – a guy who’s got it done, week-on-week, for 12 straight years, who’s a quiet, cerebral soul most of the time with a wicked and underrated sense of humor off-camera.

Now, they’re tied on career wins.

Sunday’s Sonoma triumph was Scott Dixon’s 35th of his career, dating to his first in the 2001 CART race at Nazareth. That ties him for fifth all-time with Bobby Unser, the three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and renowned commentator after his retirement from driving.

Unser, from his vacation home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, had this to say about Dixon:

“Scott Dixon is a very, very good driver and records are made to be broken,” he said. “I’ve been watching Scott race for years. I’ve been watching Scott since he started racing Indy cars when he was real young and he was successful almost immediately. He’s truly a great driver and drives with a lot of vigor.

“I am happy for Scott and at his young age I am sure he’ll get another win or lots to pass our 35 Indy car wins we now share together. Scott’s a racer, he truly knows how to drive a car, for sure. I just wish Chip would give him a stock car, sprinter or midget to race in, I am sure he’d win in those too. I am betting he’d win in anything he runs, if given the chance.”

Dixon, who’s told me in the past he’d be interested to try something on dirt, took an opportunity to reflect on being in the company of open-wheel’s Mount Rushmore of families: Foyt, Andretti, Unser and Mears.

“You know, as I’ve said before, I think stats are something you look back on when you are maybe leaving the car,” he said during the post-race press conference. “As I’ve said, hopefully you’re happy with them. To me it’s very eye-opening, pretty crazy to think that we’re on the short list last year with Unser, Andretti and Foyt ahead of us.

“But a lot of credit goes to the team I’ve been with. I’ve been with Ganassi for 13 years. To get all those victories, all but one of them have been with that team. With the longevity that I’ve had, it’s going to amount to hopefully something. Obviously respect those drivers from the past.  It’s something that I think I’ll reflect on probably when I’ve retired.”

Dixon’s deflecting the accolades for now, but we’re watching an all-time great who still has at least another four or five years in his prime.

Consider Unser was 34 when he won his first Indianapolis 500 in 1968… and that’s Dixon’s age now.

The difference in eras is that Unser raced until he was 47; today’s stars rarely race much past 38 or 40.

But Dixon has a realistic shot to climb to at least third on the all-time win list, a mark currently held by Michael Andretti with 42 wins. Dixon needs seven wins to achieve that mark.

His next win will be his 36th, and move him into the middle of an Unser sandwich. Al Unser ranks fourth on the all-time wins list with 39, and a 40th win for Dixon would move him into fourth.

AJ Foyt’s 67 wins and Mario Andretti’s 52 are, very likely, out of reach.

The only question about seven is that the level of domination by any one driver in IndyCar has gone down in recent years.

No single driver has won more than four races this season since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis in 2012; both times, that’s been the champion (Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, Dixon last year).

So Dixon could well get those wins, but it may take him some time. Either way, it’s hard not to appreciate what we’re seeing.

Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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