IndyCar

IndyCar: Where’s the best place for Scott Dixon to wind up after this season?

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In a business where you’re not supposed to play favorites, it’s hard not to do so with Scott Dixon.

He’s one of the friendliest drivers on the IndyCar circuit. Plus, as an old school kinda guy myself, I can so relate to Dixon. Even though he just turned 38 years old on July 22, he’s an old school racer with old school personality, charm and demeanor.

I’ve often said he was born a couple of decades too late.

He may not be as fiery as, say, A.J. Foyt was. And he may not be quite as charismatic as, say, Mario Andretti is, but if Dixon, Foyt and Andretti all raced in the same era, I would bet Dixon would have taken away some of the 67 wins Foyt and 52 wins Andretti both ultimately earned – and maybe at least a few of their championships – in their nearly respective four decades of racing.

So, now, with four races remaining on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, and Dixon in the final year of a three-year deal of racing for Chip Ganassi – for whom he has been employed since 2002 – arguably the biggest question facing Dixon is what does his future hold, particularly his racing future?

As it stands now, he’s essentially faced with four different options going forward:

  1. He re-ups and re-signs to stay for another three or more years with Chip Ganassi Racing – and potentially for the rest of his racing career.
  2. Per rumors, he leaves IndyCar and moves to Formula 1, joining longtime friend Zak Brown and drives for struggling McLaren, becoming teammates with Fernando Alonso.
  3. Much like Juan Pablo Montoya did after his foray into NASCAR, Dixon leaves CGR and joins Team Penske as a fourth IndyCar driver.
  4. Per another rumor, he may leave IndyCar entirely, forego F1 and follow in Montoya’s and Helio Castroneves’ footsteps by racing full-time in IMSA (and most likely doing so for Ganassi), if he chooses to do so.

If we break down each of those four scenarios, several things become fairly obvious.

Let’s look at Option No. 1: Why in the world would Dixon, with 44 IndyCar wins to date, walk away from the sport when he’s nine wins from surpassing Mario Andretti for second on the IndyCar all-time wins list?

Extrapolate that a bit further and at the age of 38, if he averages three-plus wins per season over the next 7 seasons, he could be within striking distance of becoming the all-time winningest driver ever in the sport (breaking A.J. Foyt’s record of 67 wins).

Consider this: Since 2013, Dixon has 15 wins, which is just over one-third of his total career IndyCar wins, and has also averaged just under three wins per season.

But at the same time, he has three wins in 2018 – and the potential to earn a few more with four races remaining.

Let’s face it, if you were so close to overtaking Andretti and potentially could close in on Foyt’s mark, why in the world would you want to leave IndyCar?

Here’s another number that’s even more important to consider: Dixon has four IndyCar championships, and is on track to potentially winning No. 5 this season. If he wins this year – which would be his second title in the last four years – and can win two more titles in the next several years – he’d tie Foyt for the most IndyCar championships (7).

In fact, Dixon likely has a better chance of becoming the all-time championship winner in IndyCar annals, overtaking Foyt, than he does of surpassing Foyt’s total wins.

Would you walk away from that, especially if you were to win championship No. 5 in 2018?

As for Option No. 2, this is the most unlikely scenario in my opinion. Again, look at what Dixon has achieved during his nearly 18-year IndyCar career. Why, if you’re so close to even greater infamy, would you walk away to not only go racing in a different league, but have to put up with more races, significantly more global travel, FAR more politics and negativity and a racing series that has been declining in interest and notoriety over the last few years – while at the same time IndyCar has been growing?

And even though Alonso, Brown and McLaren could promise Dixon the moon financially and performance-wise, there’s one very important question Dixon must ask himself: If McLaren has struggled up to this point with Brown and Alonso, etc., what guarantee is there that the entire organization would do a complete 180 with Dixon as its premier driver and be able to go head-to-head with the likes of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas?

Does Dixon really want to take that big of a chance? If anything, I’d say there’s a MUCH better chance of Alonso coming to IndyCar to race with Dixon (potentially as part of CGR) than vice-versa with McLaren.

Speaking of Alonso to IndyCar, it’s looking less likely that McLaren will also come to IndyCar in 2019 and will focus all of its efforts on F1 next season. There’s still a chance McLaren may come to IndyCar in 2020 or beyond, but it’s not likely for 2019.

As for Option No. 3: I’d have a lot more faith in Dixon going to another IndyCar team than going to F1. But that also means he’d have to betray Ganassi to race for his biggest team owner arch-rival, Roger Penske.

Do you really think Dixon, who owes pretty much all of his racing career, his success and his wealth to Ganassi, would turn around and betray his boss and best friend? Plus, unless Penske were handed a check for, say, $20 million or more by a sponsor that wants Dixon’s services, it’s very unlikely Team Penske would be willing to go back to four teams just one season after cutting back to three teams and sending Helio Castroneves to race sports cars in IMSA.

Furthermore, if there is a sponsor that would be willing to drop $20-plus million on Dixon, why didn’t they step forward when Target exited after its long affiliation with CGR after the 2016 season?

And then there’s Option No. 4: Dixon has enjoyed both success and time behind the wheel of a sports car during a number of one-offs, primarily for Ganassi’s IMSA camp such as in the Rolex 24 Hours.

He can readily see how Montoya and Castroneves have taken to their new racing series – even been rejuvenated – and are climbing forward in the second half of the season after a difficult first half in Acura Team Penske’s debut season in IMSA.

If Dixon were to go anywhere other than IndyCar, IMSA would be arguably the most likely second choice, as long as it would still be with Ganassi.

Add all the options up and really, there’s only one option that makes the most sense for the Auckland, New Zealand native: stay where he is and don’t go anywhere else.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Hunter McElrea wins Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship

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Hunter McElrea bested 18 competitors to win the third annual Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout on Sunday at Bondurant Racing School in Chandler, Ariz.

The two-day contest featured on-track competition in Formula Mazda cars as well as interview sessions and assessment from a panel of judges.

“I can’t believe it,” McElrea said at IndyCar.com. “This is definitely the most exciting opportunity that I have had in my racing career. I cannot thank Mazda and everyone enough for making this possible for me. The fact that I am going to be on the grid next year thanks to them is a dream come true.

“They have given me the opportunity to prove myself in such a high level that I never even thought I would be able to reach. I have to thank Andersen Promotions, Cooper tires, all of the judges, everyone from Mazda, the Bondurant Racing School and the other competitors, who literally pushed me to the limit.

“I am just so happy. It is still sinking in, but I just can’t wait to get next year started, and I’ll be representing Mazda in that nice Soul Red USF2000 car.”

MORE: Michael Carter wins Mazda Road to 24 shootout

The 19-year-old McElrea was born in California, but reared in Australia.

As a result of winning the award, McElrea will compete in the 2019 season of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder.

McElrea won the Australian Formula Ford Championship this year on the strength of 13 victories in 21 races.

Early competition resulted in a final field of six drivers that included Jake Craig, Michael Eastwell, Braden Eves, Flinn Lazier and Ross Martin. They competed in a qualification session and 30-minute simulated race. McElrea won that race.

“Today was an incredible day,” said Tom Long, Mazda Motorsports factory driver and one of the judges. “There was so much talent here for the shootout. Hunter McElrea just rose to the top when it was time to shine, but our decision was very, very difficult.

“In the end, given all of the circumstances, we were able to make a pretty good decision and we are really, really proud of not only Hunter but our whole team here with Mazda to be able to grant this $200,000 scholarship for his opportunity in USF2000 next year.”