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Scott Dixon: Lot of ground to make up — and not a lot of time to do it in

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With four races remaining on the schedule, Scott Dixon knows it’s go time if he hopes to repeat last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Last year at this time, Dixon was closing in on Juan Pablo Montoya, who led the entire season until the finale at Sonoma, where Dixon doubled-up with both the race win and the series championship, his fourth.

But this year, things are a bit more formidable and challenging for the driver of the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Target Chevrolet.

Dixon finds himself tied for fifth in the points with fellow series veteran Tony Kanaan, both drivers with 357 points each.

And way ahead of both of them is points leader Simon Pagenaud, who has amassed not only a series-leading four wins but also six poles and 484 points.

In other words, Dixon and Kanaan must make up a 127-point shortfall to just catch Pagenaud – and that doesn’t count how many more points the French driver will continue to amass in the final four races, starting with Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Pocono has been a good track for Dixon. In the three years the IndyCar clan has raced on the 2.5-mile “tricky triangle,” Dixon won the inaugural event there in 2013, finished fifth in 2014 and ninth in last season’s race.

But Dixon has also struggled of late. In the last six races, he’s fallen from second place to a tie for fifth, with good finishes of fifth (Belle Isle 2), third (Iowa) and eighth (Toronto) offset by disappointing finishes of 19th (Belle Isle 1), and a pair of last-place finishes (22nd place at each) at Road America (engine) and the most recent race nearly two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio (mechanical problems)

Dixon, who has just one win and three podium finishes thus far this season — compared to three wins and four podium finishes last year — knows what he needs to do and what he’s up against Sunday.

“This is one of the toughest oval style tracks you’re ever going to encounter,” Dixon said. “It’s the ‘Tricky Triangle’ so that really sums it up.

“For us in 2013 it was a great moment to bring back open-wheel racing to Pocono with a win and a 1-2-3 finish (along with fellow teammates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti, respectively).

“You have to put a lot of hard work into getting everything right on this track. Nothing is a given here. While we’ve kind of struggled there the past two races, we know what we need to do to be successful, so hopefully we can get it turned around for this time around.”

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GAINSCO partners with JDC-Miller for Simpson, Goikhberg

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The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.

The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.

GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.

The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.

Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.

Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.

A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.

“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.

Church and Stallings. Photo courtesy of GAINSCO Racing

Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.

“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”

“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are.  This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”

Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.

“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery.  There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.

“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to.  They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant.  I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”

JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.

Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.

The JDC-Miller Oreca 07. Photo courtesy of IMSA