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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Scott Dixon

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017 with the four-time champion, Scott Dixon. Eternally consistent as usual, but a couple missed opportunities stood out to cost Dixon a fifth title, in a year where he was Honda’s firmest title contender after a big switch preseason.

Scott Dixon, No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

  • 2016: 6th Place, 2 Wins, 2 Poles, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 268 Laps Led, 6.2 Avg. Start, 9.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 3rd Place, 1 Win, 1 Pole, 7 Podiums, 10 Top-5, 16 Top-10, 131 Laps Led, 5.5 Avg. Start, 6.3 Avg. Finish

Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that when stats such as “one win, one pole” are announced you’re shocked the numbers are that low, because it’s so abnormal. And indeed, 2017 marked the first time since 2005 Dixon didn’t win multiple races in a year. Order was restored in the galaxy otherwise with Dixon back in the top three in points after a rare “off year” in 2016 when he finished sixth, and finished in the top-10 in every race but one.

That Dixon was as excellent as he was spoke almost entirely to his No. 9 Ganassi team, working in tandem with longtime strategist Mike Hull and in particular engineers Chris Simmons and Kate Gundlach, the latter of whom was moved over from Charlie Kimball’s No. 83 car at the start of the year. They extrapolated the most out of the Honda kit in a year when aero kits were frozen, and Dixon put the car in the best possible position by making all nine Firestone Fast Six sessions and averaging an even better grid position this year with arguably a worse kit. That was phenomenal.

Of course, Dixon would point to a handful of key lost opportunities that cost him key points. The most obvious and glaring came when Jay Howard hit him in the Indianapolis 500. The contact launched him into a scary, airborne accident that he was lucky to escape from with only minor injuries. That meant he’d only score 11 race points in a double points race. Qualifying on pole netted him 42 points. On the whole, Dixon lost the title by just 21 points.

There were other moments of lost chances. St. Petersburg saw Dixon among others caught out by a caution, and he finished third there behind Sebastien Bourdais and Simon Pagenaud on off-sequence strategies. Texas saw a likely top-five erased after contact with Takuma Sato, which saw Dixon more frustrated there than he was after the bizarre Taco Bell robbery and his aerial accident in Indianapolis. Additionally, the post-Road America stretch from Iowa to Pocono saw four finishes in the top-10 but outside the top-five, and Dixon lost points to Team Penske’s four drivers there.

His one win, at Road America, came in dramatic and spectacular fashion following an outside overtake of Josef Newgarden at Turn 1 – albeit on the right Firestone tires – and toppled Team Penske’s quartet at the knees when they had the measure of him on pace all weekend. It was his first win at the iconic road course in central Wisconsin.

While Team Penske had four title contenders all year, Dixon was Ganassi’s – and Honda’s – best bet throughout. That he achieved what he did in a big year of change for the team was the latest chapter written in his legendary career, even if it came up marginally short of a fifth championship.

MRTI: Keith Donegan earns Mazda Shootout Scholarship

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”

The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.

“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”

Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.

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