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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Scott Dixon

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the Verizon IndyCar Series field driver-by-driver, following on the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

Defending champion Scott Dixon had an “off year” in 2016 by his illustrious standards, finishing outside the top three in points for the first time since 2005.

Scott Dixon, No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: Champion, 3 Wins, 2 Poles, 4 Podiums, 7 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 306 Laps Led, 6.1 Avg. Start, 7.7 Avg. Finish
  • 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

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.”

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
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Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.