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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.

Tequila Patron to end ESM and IMSA partnerships after 2018 season

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Earlier on Monday, Tequila Patron, a long-time sponsor in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, both at the team level – they have a long standing partnership with Tequila Patron ESM – and the series level, announced that they will be ending their sponsorships at the end of the 2018 season.

After sponsoring Highcroft Racing in 2008 and 2009 in the American Le Mans Series, Tequila Patron and ESM formed a partnership in 2010 to launch their own team. Since then, they have scored overall wins in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring, and the Petit Le Mans. They have also competed internationally, in both Prototype and GT categories.

“On behalf of the entire Extreme Speed Motorsports organization, it has been an honor to represent such an amazing brand for the past 13 years,” said team co-owner Scott Sharp via a team release.

“I have the deepest gratitude for all of (Patron CEO and ESM co-founder) Ed Brown’s support. Together we have tackled various challenges, won races at each step, and built ESM into such an incredible team. Simultaneously, it has been thrilling to watch Ed and his team build the Patrón brand in a meteoric fashion and along the way become an icon in the motorsports world! We will miss not carrying the now infamous green and black livery, but the same passion for excellence will remain!”

IMSA President Scott Atherton also expressed gratitude toward Patron for their long-time involvement.

“IMSA and Patron Spirits have enjoyed a fantastic partnership for more than a decade. Tequila Patron rose through the IMSA ranks, from a high-profile team sponsor with Patron Highcroft Racing beginning in 2008, through its entitlement sponsorship of the Patron GT3 Challenge starting in 2009, and its presenting sponsorship of the American Le Mans Series beginning in 2010,” Atherton detailed.

He continued, “Tequila Patron continued in a prominent position as the American Le Mans Series merged with GRAND-AM to create the new IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and has been our entitlement partner for the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup since 2014 in addition to its longstanding support of the Tequila Patron ESM race team and its pair of Nissan DPi race cars.

“All associated with IMSA – competitors, promoter partners, series officials and fans – will miss the iconic Tequila Patrón brand next year. On behalf of IMSA, we thank CEO Ed Brown and Tequila Patron for all they have done over the many years to help us grow IMSA and the sport as a whole. We’re more proud than words can express to have counted Tequila Patron among our family of premium brand partners.”

Team co-owner Scott Sharp, in a story posted on SportsCar365, asserted that the ESM team has every intention of continuing in 2019.

“We’re working on a number of options,” Sharp said. “Obviously I think we’ve singly got the best team we’ve ever had, personnel-wise. Having been refining over the years and making selected additions, we’ve gotten ourselves to be super strong. The goal is keeping everyone together. We’re working through a few different options that will hopefully allow us to do that.”

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