The biggest breaking news of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series wasn’t the Boston cancellation, or the various track extensions, or the silly season rumors. It was that we have definitive proof that Scott Dixon is, in fact, human.
Dixon, the four-time and defending series champion, had a nightmarish year by his illustrious standards. He was sixth in points and won two races. And by the Dixon goal post, that is nowhere near enough to be considered a successful year. This marked the first time since 2005 the Kiwi finished outside the top three in points, and saw him in the rare position of being mathematically eliminated from the championship going into the final race of the year. Funny thing was, he didn’t drive any worse – he just had appalling luck.
Dixon’s year did have its high points. His crew delivered a perfect series of pit stops to secure his first win at Phoenix, and his weekend of domination at Watkins Glen was nothing short of spectacular. And then there was that Le Mans debut, in the Ford GT, promptly setting the fastest race lap. He hadn’t had a weekend like that in some time and that was worth cherishing after the litany of missed opportunities … that you can read below in the following paragraph.
Starting with Long Beach, there was the hard-luck second where he thought Simon Pagenaud should have been penalized for crossing the blend line onto the circuit. There was getting punted on the opening lap in Barber by his Ford GT teammate, Sebastien Bourdais. The anonymous Indianapolis 500, which featured the only highlight of how fast his crew, changed his engine before qualifying. Then a DNF in Detroit one, a suspension break in race two, the mechanical at Road America, the untimely yellow in Toronto, the the collision with Helio Castroneves at Mid-Ohio and the “double birds” issued to Ed Carpenter at Texas.
It was a year defined by frustration for the usually unflappable Dixon and the missed opportunities he endured through, as you see, roughly half the races, was enough to take him out of title contention. Yet the thing was, had it not been for Pagenaud’s control of the points lead all season, Dixon still well could have been in with a shout at sustaining his title.
He’s not won back-to-back titles of his four, which have been spread over 15 years (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015). Next year will mark a turning point for Dixon at Ganassi from a corporate standpoint; he’ll have his first new primary sponsor following Target’s departure. He’ll also have a new engine and aero kit package, with Honda back with Ganassi. But the target will be firmly placed on Pagenaud’s back as Dixon will look to rebound from a rare “off year.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.