Dixon still winless at St. Pete, ‘will keep on digging’ for it

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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – As Scott Dixon walked off pit lane on his way to the podium and the postrace festivities on a hot, sunny Sunday afternoon, he confided with NBC Sports.com that there were several reasons to have mixed emotions with his outcome.

Dixon finished second in Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – the 2019 season opener for the NTT IndyCar Series. It remains a race Dixon has never won in his career, but the result gives him a tremendous start on the season championship.

“It’s not what we ultimately wanted,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com “You have to take the points. It would have been nice to get the win here, finally, but we have come up short a few times now and we will keep on digging.”

Dixon finished 2.8998-seconds behind Team Penske rival Josef Newgarden in Sunday’s 110-lap street race. Dixon started fourth and never got his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda to the lead, but he challenged Newgarden toward the end as the margin between the two ebbed and flowed.

Dixon had another reason to take away a positive from Sunday’s race as rookie teammate Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden finished fourth in the No. 10 NTT Data Honda after putting on quite a show on the track. He raced into second place in the first lap at the start. Thirteen laps later, Rosenqvist made a spectacular pass for the lead in Turn One, getting ahead of Will Power’s Chevrolet as both cars wiggled slightly.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Dixon said of the rookie’s performance in his IndyCar debut. “I knew he was going to be aggressive at the start. It was cool to see that. He showed Will Power and Josef Newgarden what’s up, and I had a chuckle with that. He’s fast, man, he has a lot of experience of a young guy. He is a smart kid. He’s going to go a long way.

“I knew he was going to go for it. I’m surprised he didn’t go for the lead in the first corner. But that’s what you have to do. You have to be aggressive and you have to go after it.

“And he did.”

Rosenqvist would lead three times for 31 laps before finishing fourth behind Power.

It’s important to Dixon that he have a strong teammate to benefit the entire operation. The No. 10 car has just one victory since Dario Franchitti won the 2012 Indianapolis 500. That lone win came from Tony Kanaan at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California in 2014.

Kanaan never won again for Ganassi and left the team at the end of 2017. Ed Jones took over the No. 10 car in 2018 and was winless.

The combination of 38-year-old veteran Dixon and 27-year-old rookie Rosenqvist may give team owner Chip Ganassi his best combination of drivers since Dixon and Franchitti from 2009-2013.

“We’re glad to be back on the sharp end of the grid,” Ganassi told NBC Sports.com.

Ganassi calls the race strategy for Rosenqvist and the No. 10 car while the team’s managing director, Mike Hull, is in charge of Dixon’s operation.

“Mike Hull did a good job with his car,” Ganassi continued. “We had a good day.”

The addition of a fast teammate can be a tremendous asset in Dixon’s quest for a sixth IndyCar Series championship. During Dixon’s last two title years in 2015 and 2018, he did it without the help of a teammate serving as his “wingman” that could run up front. Team Penske had that with drivers Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and, until 2017, Helio Castroneves.

It was one more “team” car that Dixon had to contend with on the racetrack in the closing stages of a championship. It worked for Team Penske with Power winning the championship in 2014, Pagenaud in 2016 and Newgarden in 2017.

Dixon had to fend off the competition on his own in 2015 and 2017 as the No. 10 car was mired deep in the pack in the closing races.

He is hopeful Rosenqvist can help his quest but also remains realistic.

“We’re at race one — let’s see where that goes,” Dixon said. “It’s awesome to work with someone so close, but it’s no surprise. I don’t think anyone is surprised. He has raced a lot of stuff and been fast in everything that he is raced.

“Hopefully, it’s going to be a strong year for both the 9 and the 10.”

So far, Dixon and Rosenqvist have worked well as teammates, but it’s very early days for these two.

“It’s not like Scott is telling me everything,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports.com. “He is a competitor and a gentleman. If I ask him something, he will always be honest, and I have the same approach as him. We have a good relationship as teammates. We have no big ego. We know if we both work in the same direction it will be best for most.

“I’ve always been on the philosophy if someone asks you and you don’t want to tell him, then you are afraid. But if you are confident in yourself, you can tell everyone what you are doing, but they won’t be able to beat you; they can always copy you.

“You will always be one step ahead.

“I tell everybody everything.”

Rosenqvist will take his “open book” philosophy into his dealings with his teammate. Dixon is considered one of the best “teammates” in the IndyCar paddock. Former teammates such as the late Dan Wheldon, Franchitti, Kanaan and Jones entered Chip Ganassi Racing as friendly rivals and ultimately became close friends with Dixon.

The dynamic between the two current teammates has yet to be determined.

“That’s a little hard to compare, to be honest,” Dixon said. “Felix has worked with the team for two or three years now with open tests we’ve done with him as a rookie. The guy has got a ton of experience in so many different cars, so it’s been really refreshing, actually, to not be in the same ecosystem and thinking of the same things. It’s kind of thinking outside the box which has been really refreshing.

“He’s a strong guy, very committed and obviously very talented and he’s going to be a hell of a fight for the whole year, and it’s nice to be working with somebody really close as far as on the speed side.”

On the track, Dixon didn’t get the results he wanted, but second place matched his best finish for this event.

“I felt our cars were strong for the first 15, 20 laps, especially on restarts, as well, but the last sort of five to ten, it flipped the other way and the Penske drivers had some really good speed,” Dixon said of the race. “I had some great battles out there. Lapped traffic was interesting, Will and I had a really tough fight in Turns one, two, and then all the way to three.

“I think strategy-wise and pit stops, it was a clean day for us. I think any of us got out front, as will said, had some really good pace, you would have been able to capitalize and Josef’s did that and their strategy, they were able to run and start on new (Firestone) Reds (softer, faster tire compound) and use Reds later. Their pace opened it up.

“It was an interesting day, and good points for us and hopefully we can keep maintaining that.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.