IndyCar

Is it time to start considering Scott Dixon as the greatest Indy car driver ever?

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In 59 racing seasons since 1960, nearly half of the championships in major American open-wheel racing – 24 to be exact – have been won by members of a select fraternity of just five drivers.

That includes titles in USAC, CART, the Champ Car World Series, the Indy Racing League and IndyCar.

Of that quintet of drivers, A.J. Foyt earned the most titles, seven: 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, 1967, 1975 and 1979. He also won 67 races from 1960 through 1981, all in USAC competition.

Three weeks ago, Scott Dixon became only the second driver ever to win at least five championships, a span that includes 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015 and 2018. He also has earned 44 wins (43 in IndyCar and 1 in CART) from 2001 to date.

When Dixon won title No. 5, he moved past the other three drivers that earned four championships in their careers:

* Mario Andretti: 1965, 1966, 1969 (all USAC) and 1984 (CART). Andretti also earned 52 wins from 1965 through 1993 (33 in USAC and 19 in CART).

* Sebastien Bourdais: 2003 through 2006 (all CART/Champ Car), and 37 wins (31 in CART/Champ Car and 6 in IndyCar) from 2003 through 2018.

* Dario Franchitti: 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 (all in the IRL/IndyCar), and 31 wins (21 in IndyCar and 10 in CART) from 1998 through 2012.

At 38 years old, Dixon can easily win another one, two or maybe even three more championships before he calls it a career, perhaps in his mid-40s.

He’s still in excellent physical shape, still has tremendous cat-like reflexes and hasn’t lost any of his passion for racing.

After he won No. 5, two questions quickly emerged in the IndyCar community among fans, media and opposing team members:

Will Dixon pass Foyt for total championships? Or at the very least, tie A.J.’s seven titles?

Keep this in mind, as well: three of Dixon’s five championships have come in the last six seasons. If he can sustain that pace, he could wrap up title No. 7 by the time he’s 42 years old – or 2022.

Foyt has long been acknowledged as the greatest Indy car driver ever. But it’s also safe to say that Foyt raced at a time where there was nowhere near the parity in the sport from both a talent and equipment standpoint as we see today.

Face it, Foyt had arguably the best equipment and best team personnel for over 20 years of his career.

Photo: IMS Archives

It was a similar instance for Mario Andretti and his four titles over 19 seasons.

Bourdais won his four championships at a time when CART and the IRL were disparate not only in ideology but also in competitiveness, equipment and parity.

It wasn’t until Franchitti won his four IndyCar crowns over a five-year period – he sat out the 2008 season to race in NASCAR, only to have his season end not even halfway through when sponsorship evaporated – that IndyCar racing began to really see perhaps the greatest parity among most, if not all teams, that it has ever seen.

And that trend has not only continued, things have gotten closer and tighter more than ever, especially in the just-completed 2018 season after the advent of the new IndyCar chassis, arguably one of the best styles the sport has ever seen.

That’s what makes Dixon’s achievement of five titles – and again, three of those coming in the last six seasons – all the more significant and noteworthy.

Some might even say that Dixon, during a period of the closest competition and tightest racing any American open-wheel series has ever seen, could one day supplant Foyt as being considered the greatest driver ever in Indy car racing history.

If he hasn’t already – with all due respect to Anthony Joseph Foyt.

Think of it: Dixon has won five titles in 16 seasons, while Foyt won his seven titles in 20 seasons, but with far less stiffer competition than Dixon has faced in his career.

Also, keep in mind that while Foyt has 23 more wins than Dixon in their respective Indy car careers, again, Dixon has had a much more difficult road to hoe with cars and drivers never more closer together in terms of speed and elapsed time.

Oh yes, also keep one other thing in mind: Dixon won his 44 races from the ages of 20 to 38, while Foyt earned his first win at 25 years old and his last at 44.

What’s more, Dixon has won his 44 races in just 304 career open-wheel starts, while Foyt earned his 67 victories in 382 career starts.

It took Andretti 28 seasons to win his 52 races, although to be fair, he won 51 in his first 23 seasons and his 44th and last triumph in his 28th season in U.S. open-wheel competition, when he was 53 years old. Also of note, Andretti made 421 career starts between USAC and CART.

About the only other driver other than Dixon that potentially could have gone on to challenge Foyt and Andretti was Franchitti, whose career abruptly ended at the age of 40 after suffering a serious crash in the second-to-last race of the 2013 season at Houston.

If I may be so bold, I have always felt Dixon was considered underrated as a driver – and as a champion. Sure, he won his fourth crown in 2015, but there was nary a word in the media about him ever moving into rare air in terms of championships and wins to challenge both Foyt and Andretti, until this season.

With the way Dixon won his fifth championship this season, he personified more than ever his nickname of “The Iceman” in my opinion. He was so cool, calm and collected as he held off late-season challenges and rallies by Alexander Rossi, Will Power and 2017 IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden.

You never saw a wrinkle of worry on Dixon’s face in the last 3-4 races. He just had a quiet yet confident demeanor that while he knew anything could still happen until the checkered flag at Sonoma, nothing was going to happen if he had anything to say – or do – about it.

It’s almost as if his internal mantra was “I’ve got this.”

Has Dixon dethroned Foyt as the greatest driver in Indy car history, considering the circumstances, timing and at the different points of their respective careers when they made their most significant achievements?

Maybe not just yet, but if the New Zealand wonder wins a sixth title next season or in the next few seasons afterward, there’d be no doubt in my mind at that point.

Sure, Dixon and Foyt raced in different times in the sport. And both are to be commended for the careers they’ve had.

But could it honestly be said Foyt would have been as great and equally as successful racing today – particularly against Dixon – as Foyt was back in the old days?

I’m not so sure about that.

But there’s no doubt Dixon is the best of his generation, the best of the last two decades of open-wheel racing and potentially one day will indeed be considered the best of the best.

(Take the attached poll and let us know your thoughts.)

Follow @JerryBonkowski

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.