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Scott Dixon’s balancing family, driver roles helps make him great

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The accolades that immediately roll off the tongue when you mention Scott Dixon’s name are his racing accomplishments: 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner, four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, and fourth all-time on the Indy car win list with 40, trailing only A.J. Foyt (67), Mario Andretti (52) and Michael Andretti (42).

So what’s the accolade you don’t necessarily put alongside it, but you should? His dedication and devotion as a family man, in the dual role of husband to wife Emma and full-time dad to daughters Poppy and Tilly. He and Emma celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary today.

The Dixons, who have made Indianapolis their permanent residence in recent years but also spent a fair bit of time of St. Petersburg helping the Wheldon family, are, if not renowned as the first family of the current IndyCar grid, they’re close.

Talking about family, rather than racing, doesn’t come easily to Dixon – who as typically as he gets on with the job behind the wheel, also does so at home. He does this as he prepares for his 17th season in IndyCar, 16th with Chip Ganassi Racing and for the first time, without Target sponsorship.

“I feel very lucky with my job, but also the time we get with family,” Dixon told NBC Sports. “We have extremely long offseasons.

“So by their nature, that gives you that time to be, for me, a dad … I can fully be there to take the kids to school, maybe crash their lunches, or take them to gymnastics or tennis. A lot of people don’t get that opportunity.”

Dixon’s schedule isn’t usually as travel heavy for work purposes over the IndyCar offseason as, for example, Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball, who spends much of his time traveling the country and world for Novo Nordisk appearances.

The extent of Dixon’s offseason travel is usually for sports car races – he competes in one of Ganassi’s Ford GTs in the endurance races as third driver to his past IndyCar teammate Ryan Briscoe and sports car veteran Richard Westbrook.

“Both Emma and I travel a lot but we also get time to be with the kids, because having a normal job can be from 8 to 5. Others have it even worse… if you’re a doctor, nurse or whatever, the hours are extremely long,” Dixon said.

He puts his full focus on his day job first, but he’s never let that impede on the duties at home.

“For me, I love racing… I love the challenge of it, and that’s important,” he said. “But there’s family and then racing. The other promotional stuff, media requirements, things like that, are probably the harder part for me. Talking about the racing is easier.”

One of the races he was talking about this offseason was the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, a race Dixon has gotten more interested over the years to go along with his interest growing up in watching the Australian Supercars classic, the Bathurst 1000 (now the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000).

“It’s kind of like their Indianapolis 500,” Dixon explained. “I watched the 1000 every year back in the days, going back to watching Peter Brock, Dick Johnson and those legends. I’ve been there twice maybe to watch the race? But I was only 14 or 15 at the time.

“That place has fascinated me. The track is so cool. A lot of the guys that are racing there now, I’ve competed against in the junior categories and now do most of the V8 races. It’s a national thing… all the mates I went to school with. It’d be watch Bathurst, have a BBQ, getting ready for watching. Hopefully one day there’s one day I can race there, man.”

If the opportunity arises, Dixon would jump at the chance to race at Bathurst, with the 12-hour as a “warm-up act” to any appearance in the 1000.

“Thinking about it, the whole idea would be to do the 12-hour before Supercars and the 1000. Timing-wise, it’s possible to do both, but contractually it might be harder. I’d love to do it though; I’ve put fingers out to try to see what the possibilities are.”

Mike Hull, Dixon’s longtime race strategist and managing director at Chip Ganassi Racing, also worked to explain what makes Dixon so good from the dual family/driver role.

“You never realize what’s in front of you while you have it,” Hull told NBC Sports. “When it’s Scott Dixon we’re talking about, if he’s not the best ever, he’s one of the best.

“People don’t realize what he’s done as a driver. When you think about the iterations of cars he’s raced. It’s not the same as the CART ones that changed, or the IRL ones that changed. He’s been continually winning in a different kind of IndyCar for 15 years. He doesn’t give up trying to understand himself better on a driver. He’s like a chameleon. He’s always trying to suit the car, driver and track… some drivers are so singularly focused in their driving style, and they have to step around their egos.

“But that’s why he’s won as many races as he has… 40 of them. Other guys have raced cars at a different time. Scott has been blessed with good teammates. What Scott does is work so hard, but so unselfishly with his teammates to make each other better.

“He’s worked so hard to achieve what he has unselfishly. You’ll get the most from him every day.”

New 2018 IndyCar aero kit makes its formal test debut at IMS

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After months of buildup and following Monday’s reveal, Tuesday marked the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit’s official debut on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

INDYCAR’s release, with a handful of social media posts embedded, is below:

If the first day of on-track testing is any indication, the new Verizon IndyCar Series car is well on its way to making Indy car racing in 2018 even better.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Oriol Servia turned more than 100 laps each on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in their respective Chevrolet- and Honda-powered Dallara IR-12s equipped with the universal aerodynamic bodywork kit making its public debut ahead of being used by all competitors next season.

Afterward, approval of the new car’s bolder, sleeker look and performance was unanimous from everyone involved. Buy-in from the two test drivers – among the most veteran and respected around – was essential and secured from the outset.

“From Lap 1, it just felt at home,” said the 43-year-old Servia, who has driven Indy cars since 2000. “The car felt great. I was flat on it out of the pits, which just says how good the car felt right away.

“I think it’s going to be a fast, good racer.”

INDYCAR, sanctioning body for the Verizon IndyCar Series, announced in April 2016 its intent to move away from aero kit competition to a universally supplied kit in 2018. Dallara, a series chassis supplier since 1997, was named to produce and supply the universal kit.

“It’s exciting because, for the first time in the car, it drives really, really well,” said Montoya, 41 and a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “I think they addressed a lot of the things and the car looks great. I think having one aero kit for everybody is great for the sport. The car looks good and it drives really good.”

Montoya’s car was prepared by Team Penske and Servia’s by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, though INDYCAR is retaining control of the cars until testing is complete in late September. INDYCAR officials watched with nervous excitement as the two cars took to the track for the first time shortly after 9 a.m. ET and methodically worked through the test checklist. By 5 p.m., the checklist had been completed and a potential second day of testing Wednesday was deemed unnecessary.

“We were pleased,” said Bill Pappas, INDYCAR’s vice president of competition/race engineering who headed up the technical development of the universal kit. “It matched up with our numbers that we predicted in the wind tunnel and CFD (computational fluid dynamics), so we were very happy for that.”

Pappas said the test list included short runs by each car to “ensure that there weren’t any surprises,” followed by longer runs on the 2.5-mile oval to check for durability issues. Everyone at INDYCAR and Dallara felt confident the test would be a success, but there are never givens in racing.

“This is my first experience being part of a car being designed,” Pappas said. “Obviously, Dallara did a great job helping us, but you hold your breath until the first competitive laps are run.”

Love this place. @indianapolismotorspeedway is sooo much fun in an @indycar @teamchevy @team_penske @fitzgeraldgliderkits

A post shared by Juan Pablo Montoya (@jpmonty2) on

Old Boys. @indycar #2018 #shapingthefuture #future #racing #indy500

A post shared by Oriol Servia (@oriolservia) on

Mission accomplished, at least for the first phase of testing. Additional tests for the two cars are scheduled for Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Aug. 1), Iowa Speedway (Aug. 10) and Sebring International Raceway (Sept. 26). But the fact that this opening test was completed in half the allotted time is reason to celebrate, if only for a short time.

“Everything we had planned to do in two days, we already accomplished in the first day,” Servia said. “We did lots of laps, long runs, and the car feels good. The car feels very benign.

“It just feels right and we’re not having any issues or moments out there. Very consistent. My second long run, I think, was one of my most consistent runs I’ve done at this track in all of my years.”

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season resumes this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Live race coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with an encore telecast at 7 p.m. on NBCSN.

Ryan Norman set to take next ‘Journey’ in debut Indy Lights season

Photo: Andretti Autosport
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One of the more unheralded drivers entering this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires campaign has been Ryan Norman, the 19-year-old out of Cleveland who has made strides in his rookie campaign.

Norman was the only one of Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights quartet new to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires this year. Teammates Nico Jamin, Dalton Kellett and Colton Herta have all been in the MRTI before, while Norman has undergone a significant learning process of taking on new tracks and a new championship.

But Norman’s been one of the year’s more pleasant surprises with methodical growth and improvement over the course of the season.

Through 12 races, Norman has improved his starting position by the end of the race in nine of them, and scored 10 top-10 finishes overall – a number that is tied for second in the series with Zachary Claman De Melo, behind only season points leader Kyle Kaiser who has been in the top-10 in all 12. He’s also won multiple Tilton Hard Charger awards for advancing the most positions in a race from his grid position, and additional Staubli Awards.

Norman ranks 10th in the points standings, ahead of two three-year veterans and two rookies.

Incidentally, it’s been the few races where Norman has qualified in the top five – fourth at the Freedom 100, third at Elkhart Lake race one and fourth in Iowa – where his results haven’t measured up to his starting position. A first lap accident took he and Herta out at the Freedom, while he still banked solid fourth and eighth place finishes in the other two races.

Norman heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend for the next step of his journey on his rookie season – literally.

After running in a vibrant orange-and-black livery the first 12 races, Norman will now step aboard the No. 48 Journey Mazda for Andretti Autosport this weekend, as the legendary rock band formed in 1973 comes onto the car, and the livery changes along with it for the balance of the season.

Not far from Norman’s hometown of Cleveland, the same city of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Lexington, Ohio course will see Norman debut the new livery. ORACAL’s new 970 Premium Special Effect Cast in Sunset Shift, a color-changing wrap like Norman’s Red Bull Global Rallycross teammate Scott Speed’s race car. The new design echoes Journey’s iconic logo, featuring giant wings on the side pod and nose cone of Norman’s Dallara IL-15.

It’s an orange livery with yellow and blue stripes. Needless to say Norman is ready to rock out on home turf this weekend and look to continue his rapid growth in his first season this weekend.

“I am very excited to have Journey on board for the rest of my 2017 season,” Norman said in a release. “It’s unique to have a rock band sponsoring a race car. Journey was inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which is my hometown, so it makes the next race at Mid-Ohio very special to me. I love Journey’s music and having “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the side of my car is very fitting. This song has inspired a lot people including athletes like myself.”

Norman isn’t the only Andretti Autosport driver with a story this weekend at Mid-Ohio; teammate Jamin looks to snap a rough patch of results and extend his own personal winning streak at Mid-Ohio from its current run of five races between USF2000 (three races in 2015) and Pro Mazda (two in 2016) while Herta looks to keep his championship hopes alive. Kellett has had the opposite bit of luck as Norman this year; he’s qualified significantly better but had a rough run of results in the races themselves that haven’t matched his potential.

Indy Lights race coverage from Mid-Ohio airs Sunday, July 30, at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Luca Ghiotto joins Hungary test list for Williams

Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP3 Series Media Service.
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Formula 2 front-runner Luca Ghiotto is the latest young driver to be confirmed for the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, with the Italian set to run on one of the two days for Williams Martini Racing.

Ghiotto battled Esteban Ocon for the GP3 title in 2015 but lost out to the Frenchman, and has since moved up a category on his own.

Ghiotto and Felipe Massa will split the two days of running between Tuesday and Wednesday after the Grand Prix.

“A big thanks to Williams for this opportunity. I think the first F1 test for any driver is a special moment, and to do it with such an historic team is even better so I’m really excited. Of course, I also need to focus on the F2 weekend beforehand, but I’m really looking forward to the test and I really hope it goes well,” Ghiotto said of his first F1 test.

Claire Williams, deputy team principal added, “This will be Luca’s first opportunity of a Formula One outing. Our team has a strong track record for developing young talent, and we always enjoy seeing young drivers getting opportunities to demonstrate their ability. I look forward to seeing how he performs in the car next month.”

Magnus brings in ‘hired gun’ Spencer Pumpelly for Mid-Ohio

Photo: Magnus Racing
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With Mansfield, Ohio the home of the prison in The Shawshank Redemption in the Ohio State Reformatory (also known as the Mansfield Reformatory) and with Magnus Racing PR ace and “Dinner with Racers” co-creator Sean Heckman one of two who’ve coined the inside joke that Spencer Pumpelly allegedly tried to kill a guy, it was only natural that Pumpelly will play the role of Magnus Racing’s “hired gun” near the prison at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Pirelli World Challenge competition this weekend.

The joke stems from the first season of “DWR” and was a running joke throughout the season. The “hired gun” play-on-words riffs on the fact Pumpelly will be substituting for Pierre Kaffer in the team’s No. 4 Audi R8 LMS this weekend, with Kaffer on duty at the Total 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps for Audi Sport.

Pumpelly has raced alongside Kaffer and Dane Cameron in PWC SprintX competition this season – Pumpelly and Cameron actually won the second race of the weekend at Lime Rock Park – and now the veteran sports car driver and Atlanta native will make his first PWC Sprint starts of the year, and first since his similar fill-in role with Heckman’s “DWR” co-creator, Ryan Eversley, at RealTime Racing last year… which also started at Mid-Ohio.

“It’s great to have Spencer back in the team,” stated Magnus Racing team owner and driver John Potter, who is in the team’s No. 44 Audi in GTA. “Spencer has always fit right in with us, but driving the team to our first series victory of course sealed a very special place for his legacy with us. We’re hoping Mid-Ohio suits both Spencer and the No. 4, and hopefully we can repeat the same feat.”

“It’s great to return to the team,” stated Pumpelly. “Obviously our last race together went extraordinarily well, and we’re hoping that same momentum can continue in to Mid Ohio. It’s always tough to say what to expect, especially in these very frantic sprint races, but we’re optimistic that the circuit should suit us. The entire team at Magnus has done a great job putting this effort together, and we look forward to pushing for additional results.”