Dixon may not consider himself one of the best ever, but IndyCar world certainly does

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SONOMA, California — When you talk about the best drivers in Indy car racing history, by winning his fifth career Indy car championship Sunday, Scott Dixon indisputably and unequivocally is now in the same rare Indy car fraternity as legendary A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti.

Consider:

* Dixon is now only the second driver ever in Indy car racing to win five championships – and the first to do it in 51 years! That’s more than a half-century. The other driver to ever reach five wins is Foyt, who ultimately would go on to win seven titles in his illustrious career.

* With Sunday’s crown, Dixon passed Andretti, who earned four Indy car titles in his own illustrious career.

* With three race wins in 2018 en route to the championship, Dixon is now up to 44 wins in his Indy car career. That leaves him only eight away from tying Andretti for No. 2 on the sport’s all-time wins list.

* Given that since 2013, Dixon has earned 15 wins and three of his five career Indy car championships, one must wonder how much more prolific he’ll continue to be in 2019, 2020, 2021 and beyond. At the rate he’s going, Dixon potentially could tie and even break Andretti’s 52 wins within the next 3-4 seasons.

* Foyt’s 67 career wins may be a bit too far for Dixon to achieve. But looking at it from a glass half-full, half-empty perspective, if anyone can top Foyt, Dixon may be the only driver that ever could. It may take him another decade – along with the potential of winning another 2 or 3 or more championships in the process – but don’t completely rule out Dixon catching Foyt.

* And if that were to happen, Dixon would truly, positively be the absolute best there ever has been in Indy car racing.

Photo: IndyCar

Now, enough with the statistics. Let’s talk about Scott Dixon the man.

One of the definitions of the word “humility” is this: “a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”

Humility could very easily be Dixon’s middle name. He doesn’t toot his own horn or say how great he is, even though with his kind of career numbers, he certainly could.

When asked after Sunday’s race whether he considers himself among the best Indy car drivers ever, the 38-year-old New Zealand native immediately demurred.

“I don’t see myself that way at all,” he said, almost blushing. “I feel lucky, am very blessed in many ways. … I feel lucky I get to do what I love to do, get to work with the best in the business.”

But one of the best ever? Nope.

“I guess I just don’t see it that way,” Dixon reiterated.

No one could have imagined how Dixon would fare when he joined Chip Ganassi Racing just three races into the 2002 season when his team, Pac West Racing, folded.

Not team owner Chip Ganassi, not chief strategist Mike Hull, not even Dixon himself.

But there was something about Dixon that Ganassi just knew that he had to sign him and field a race car for him. He knew he had talent, having earned a win and two podium finishes in his rookie CART season with Pac West the year before in 2001.

Yet there was more to Dixon than just having a heavy foot and sharp reflexes to muscle a car through one turn after another.

Ganassi liked the way Dixon carried himself both inside and outside of a race car. He had a confident but quiet and modest air.

Team owner Chip Ganassi went crowd surfing to celebrate Scott Dixon’s 5th IndyCar championship — and Ganassi’s 12th as a team owner. Photo: IndyCar

Perhaps more than anything, it was the humility that Dixon displayed back then – the same kind of humility he still displays today – that sold Ganassi on the young Kiwi.

And continues to be sold on more than 16 years later into their relationship.

Dixon is the consummate professional both as a driver and a human being. He’s a dedicated family man, has never been involved in any type of scandal, never has been arrested nor had his name splashed across the front page of a newspaper for anything else other than being the great driver he is.

Another illustration of Dixon’s humility was seen as soon as he climbed out of his race car in victory lane. Instead of stopping to be interviewed on TV, he first made a beeline to his crew members, to thank each of them personally.

Then, when he finally did turn around to face the camera, the first thing Dixon said wasn’t about how happy he was to win the championship, but rather how appreciative he was to his wife and for the guys that made it happen, his team.

“I can’t thank everyone enough, my wife Emma, the team, my teammate (Ed Jones), everybody involved,” Dixon humbly said. “This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work.”

Then, when he walked into the media center to be grilled by reporters, one of the first things out of Dixon’s mouth was:

“Got to give huge credit to the team. They kind of just went on a wholesale change, everything worked out perfectly, the car had some great speed.”

Dixon shares a special moment with one of his daughters after winning the IndyCar championship.

He also exalted that his daughters, Poppy and Tilly, were in attendance to see Dad win it all.

“So cool to have Poppy and Tilly here,” Dixon beamed with pride. “It’s their first championship. They’ve been to a couple race wins, but it was really cool to have them here today.”

Obviously, racing is a sport where fans cheer for their favorites and boo those they don’t like. But admit it, when was the last time you ever heard Dixon get booed?

Virtually every fan at Sonoma Raceway applauded Dixon after he crossed the finish line for a job well done in winning the championship and doing what he needed to do to beat chief challenger Alexander Rossi.

Then there were the countless fellow drivers, owners and crew members from other teams that came up to congratulate Dixon on No. 5.

Not only is it rare to hear Dixon being booed, when was the last time a fellow driver criticized or outright blasted Dixon?

You might be able to count the number of times that’s happened in his career on one hand – and have a few fingers still left over.

Dixon truly is humility personified in a sport where being humble isn’t the easiest way to be. Some might even view humility as some sort of weakness.

But if there ever was a dictionary written about Dixon, alongside the words “humility” and “respect” would be his photo.

Even though Dixon “doesn’t see it that way,” there’s no disputing that the IndyCar world DOES see it that way.

“I’ve said it a thousand times, he’s the guy on the track, off the track,” Ganassi said of Dixon. “If you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it’s Scott Dixon. He’s just the man.”

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.