Dixon’s latest title a story of consistency, comeback, typical “Ice Man” cool

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SONOMA, Calif. – The story all year was about the legend seeking his second title in 16 years, and the son of a legend having his career year.

The story ended with the latest chapter written in the book of the legend of our generation.

“I think he’s arguably the driver of our generation,” Chip Ganassi said of Scott Dixon Sunday at Sonoma. “The IndyCar driver of our generation for sure.”

It’s been written time and time again to never count out Scott Dixon, to always appreciate whatever he does, and how even in the moment of greatness, Dixon is always so cool, so collected, and so reserved in acknowledging what he’s done.

So true to form, after Dixon secured his fourth and latest Verizon IndyCar Series title – arguably the most unlikely one after entering the double points season finale down 47 to Juan Pablo Montoya and also 13 back of Graham Rahal – the reaction again wasn’t immediately one of his greatness.

The reaction was shock that Dixon, along with longtime strategist Mike Hull and longtime team principal Ganassi, had actually pulled it off after a win in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma and with Montoya ending sixth, one spot short of the result he needed to clinch the title.

“It still feels a bit strange,” Dixon said in the post-race press conference. “You know, obviously it was a day where we needed a lot of things to go our way, and I think for the first part we just… we had to win. It was going to make our only real shot at it, and it was a bit of a longshot.

“But none of this happens with one person, and from Chip leading this team to Mike leading the Indianapolis part and every crew member and teammates – my teammates this year have been phenomenal.

“Obviously we would have liked to have gone into this last race leading the championship and having a few more points, but you know, as Chip said, this is definitely one of [if not] the most sweetest championships we’ve had.”

Championships for the Dixon/Hull/Ganassi trio aren’t a new thing.

This is their fourth together as a collective unit, and for Ganassi, his and the team’s sixth in the last eight years dating to 2008, and 11th overall dating to 1996.

But in terms of last race come-from-behind Ganassi title wins, it’s a rare thing.

Dixon’s previous three titles were a second-half comeback in 2013, a season-long dominance in 2008, and emerging from a five-way battle to win in 2003.

Ganassi’s other recent titles saw the team seize the moment against Roger Penske’s squad, who managed to lose the title for the seventh time in eight years.

Whether it’s been Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Ryan Briscoe or now Montoya, the “Penske Perfect” moniker hasn’t applied when it’s come time to close.

Still, Ganassi and Hull both took the opportunity to tip their caps to Penske for a fair fight, even if the double points at play in the race helped Dixon to his latest title.

The field knew what they had to do given the rules, and on Sunday, Dixon and Ganassi closed again. They did so by way of executing perfect strategy in what wound up being another strategy-centric race.

“We knew we had to win the race. We knew that before we arrived here,” said Hull, the managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Pit on Lap 61, that’s what – well, we came in on 62, so even we make a mistake,” Hull joked.

“We wanted it to be a three stop race, so what we did was we worked really hard from the very beginning of the weekend to create a three-stop event for us this weekend, and we knew we had to get to 61.

“If we could get to 61 as everybody thinned out on the racetrack with the track position gained throughout the stops, we thought we had a chance to win the race.”

The Lap 39 contact between Montoya and Power didn’t help either of them, obviously, but neither was completely out of it by that stage. Still, resigned to 23rd and 24th in the 25-car field, they needed a comeback and a bit of luck to make it back.

Dixon was in the process of completing his usual “take notice, he’s coming forward” routine in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet after starting ninth, having moved ahead of Power and Josef Newgarden on the most recent pit stop sequence a few laps earlier, thanks in large part to great work from the Ganassi pit crew.

It may have only been for 13th at the time but with the 12 cars in front of him on a different strategy, Dixon was net leader, and well-positioned for the lead once teammates Tony Kanaan and Sebastian Saavedra in front of him pulled off.

Dixon took the lead on Lap 51 and relinquished it for only one of the final 35 laps – when he pitted, as mentioned, on Lap 62.

It was those 34 laps led that netted him the two crucial bonus points for leading the most laps, and thus allowed him to finish level with Montoya on points, and win the title on a three-to-two win tiebreaker.

At race’s end, Dixon noted how he’d now won a title he’d lost before – the 2007 season finale at Chicagoland to Franchitti – in a way reminiscent of his longtime friend and teammate.

“It was very Dario-esque, I think, which was quite nice to slip through there and take it so maybe he’s been rubbing off on me, which is a very positive thing,” Dixon said.

It was a weird year for Dixon. Prior to his Sonoma win, he hadn’t even had a podium finish since his win at Texas in June, a race he credited his team for making the right call on downforce.

He finally won at Long Beach, his traditional house of horrors. He scored the pole for the Indianapolis 500, but was the George Harrison to the Penske pair’s John Lennon and Paul McCartney (Power and Montoya) in the three-way fight for the win – underrated yet overshadowed.

Yet there were plenty of races all year where the results didn’t match the performance.

As ever, Dixon shied away from the spotlight. He extended so much credit to his team, and it’s worth noting this title is his first with Chris Simmons, Franchitti’s former engineer, who moved across from the No. 10 to the No. 9 team when Eric Bretzman moved to Ganassi’s NASCAR program this offseason.

He also made sure to express thoughts and prayers for the Wilson family, following Justin Wilson’s passing last week.

“I know Stefan, his little brother was here today and Julia is back home in Colorado with Jane and Jess and Keith and Lynne. It’s been a very tough week. It’s such a small community, and they’re such great people and such a loving family, it’s been very tough.

“But as Justin would have wanted, he would have wanted us to go out and race, and today I gave it my all from when the green flag dropped, I was giving it the most I could, and had some good, clean racing out there to enable us to move up quickly at the start as definitely key, but heavy hearts, but much love to the Wilson family.”

What started as a week of heartache though ended with jubilation and joy.

If you had Dixon and Ganassi going crowd surfing on Sunday… of course you didn’t. No one did.

“I mean, just all of our supporters, those were all the Team Target people out there, and they were just screaming,” Ganassi said. “There were just so many of them down there.

“They were just screaming, and I went over and I gave my high thing, and I just kind of gave them the two hand, like that, in jubilation, and then they all came over and they started saying, jump, jump or whatever, like oh, my, I lined myself up for that. I couldn’t say no then.

“I can tell you I’ve never done that before, body surfed like that. That was really something, I’ve got to tell you. What a better place and a better way to do that for the first time. Yeah, that was something.”

Also something: Dixon finding another new way to amaze us, as he wrote the next chapter of his legend.

Williams’ Massa, Stroll prep for new phases of their careers (VIDEO)

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In the video linked above, Williams Martini Racing’s Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll look ahead to what should be an intriguing 2017 Formula 1 season given their respective stages of their careers.

Massa, 35, returns to the Mercedes-powered team after what was meant to be a retirement following last season’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But the subsequent retirement of Nico Rosberg at Mercedes AMG Petronas opened the door for Massa to come back once Valtteri Bottas left to replace Rosberg there, and has given Massa a second ‘farewell tour.’

Stroll, meanwhile, is just 18 – born a year and three days (October 29, 1998) after Williams won its last World Championship in 1997 with Stroll’s Canadian countryman Jacques Villeneuve. Having blitzed the junior categories, particularly the FIA European F3 Championship last year, Stroll’s arrival to F1 comes with some fanfare and some question marks as he’s been fortunate to have significant family support.

The two of them make up Williams’ team this season and along with deputy team principal Claire Williams, they look ahead to what is to come in 2017.

You can see this pair and the rest of the F1 grid as part of NBCSN’s coverage from Melbourne for the Australian Grand Prix. All times are linked here.

Lewis Hamilton completes Friday F1 practice double in Australia

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Lewis Hamilton continued his march at the top of the timesheets in practice for the Formula 1 season-opener in Australia on Friday afternoon, leading the way once again for Mercedes.

Hamilton entered the weekend unsure about his chances after an impressive display from Ferrari through pre-season testing, prompting the Briton to pick the Italian team as the favorite for victory in Melbourne.

Hamilton set the pace through first practice at Albert Park as the new-style F1 cars got their first official running, heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes with Valtteri Bottas in tow.

FP2 was expected to offer more insight into Ferrari’s true pace after it opted to limit its running through first practice, but it was Hamilton who led the way once again.

Running on the ultra-soft tire, Hamilton produced a stunning lap of 1:23.620 to finish half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, the German driver unable to respond to his rival’s pace.

Bottas continued his impressive start to life with Mercedes, finishing the session third-quickest, while Kimi Raikkonen rounded out a Mercedes-Ferrari top-four lock-out in the second SF70H car.

Despite Ferrari’s inability to challenge Mercedes, it was Red Bull that came away from FP2 as the biggest disappointment after Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen had scruffy sessions en route to P5 and P6 respectively. Verstappen had been on a quick lap and due to improve his time, only to run wide at Turn 12 and narrowly avoid losing control.

Carlos Sainz Jr. finished a solid seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who was fortunate to keep his car out of the wall as the American team’s brake issues arose once again. Nico Hulkenberg was ninth for Renault, with Daniil Kvyat rounding out the top 10.

FP2 was red flagged early on following a big shunt for Jolyon Palmer at the final corner. The Briton lost the rear-end of his car coming through the right-hander, causing him to slide into the wall and suffer a large amount of damage to his car. Felipe Massa was another driver to hit trouble, with his Williams FW40 grinding to a halt midway through the session, forcing the Brazilian to end his day early, while Marcus Ericsson spun off with five minutes to go, beaching his Sauber.

Lewis Hamilton sets rapid pace to open F1 2017 in Australia FP1

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Lewis Hamilton kicked off Formula 1’s new technical era in style by heading up a one-two finish for Mercedes in opening practice for the Australian Grand Prix on Friday morning in Melbourne.

Despite predictions from many that Ferrari and Red Bull would pose a greater challenge at the top of the timesheets in Australia, FP1 offered a familiar result as Hamilton led home new teammate Valtteri Bottas.

The added downforce of the new-style 2017 cars had the desired effect of slashing lap times, with Hamilton’s best effort of 1:24.220 being less than four-tenths of a second off his pole position time for last year’s race.

Bottas made a good impression in his first F1 weekend session in Mercedes colors, leading the bulk of the session before Hamilton jumped ahead on the ultrasoft tires with around 30 minutes remaining.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge, finishing third ahead of teammate Max Verstappen, but Ferrari decided against showing its hand early and limited its running, only pushing for fast laps in the final 15 minutes of the session.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP1 fifth in the SF70H, 1.1 seconds off Hamilton’s best time, while Vettel was a further tenth back in P6.

The session went by without any major incident, although a handful of drivers did have minor technical issues that are part and parcel of the first session of the year.

McLaren’s difficulties continued from pre-season as Stoffel Vandoorne was limited to just 10 laps, while Jolyon Palmer and Esteban Ocon also had their running cut due to problems. All three featured in the bottom five of the standings.

Times are below:

Sean Gelael set for Toro Rosso F1 tests in 2017

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Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael will play a part in this year’s in-season Formula 1 test running after agreeing a deal with Toro Rosso.

Gelael, 20, raced full-time in GP2 last year before the championship evolved into F2, scoring one podium finish in Austria.

The Indonesian driver also appeared in the final three rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship, scoring an LMP2 podium for Extreme Speed Motorsports in Shanghai.

Gelael will race in F2 this year with Arden, but will also get his first taste of F1 machinery in the upcoming tests for Toro Rosso.

All F1 teams will get four days of in-season running this year (two in Bahrain, two in Hungary following their respective races) as well as the traditional end-of-year test in Abu Dhabi.

Gelael will feature in all three for Toro Rosso, having undergone a seat fitting at Faenza earlier this week.

All F1 teams are required to allocate at least half of their in-season running to junior drivers who have made fewer than two grand prix starts.

Gelael will make his first appearance for Toro Rosso following the Bahrain Grand Prix, with running set to take place at the Bahrain International Circuit on April 18 and 19.