IndyCar’s Scott Dixon ‘annoyed’ he is winless at Barber

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones
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LEEDS, Alabama – Scott Dixon is more annoyed than he is baffled when it comes to his record of near-success at Barber Motorsports Park.

In nine previous starts in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course, Dixon has seven finishes of third or better including five second-place finishes. From IndyCar’s first race at George Barber’s magnificent facility in 2010 to 2013, Dixon had four-straight runner-up finishes.

He collected another second-place in 2017 when he trailed race-winner Josef Newgarden to the checkered flag by 1.050-seconds.

In nine starts, Dixon has nine top-10 finishes.

But Barber Motorsports Park is one of the very few circuits left on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule where the five-time series champion never has won a race. He is third on IndyCar’s all-time victory list with 44 wins, but none of them came at the track where he has his highest average finish of 3.6.

Baffling, indeed.

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“It annoys me more than baffles me,” Dixon told NBC “Some of those races have been good races, and second was probably the best we had. Two or three of those have also been ones we’ve messed up a little or came up short. I think there was one that stood out where we had lapped traffic in our in lap, and the second-place car jumped us because we lost time on that in lap.

“You have to be in it to win it, and we haven’t had that chance there yet. Nobody’s fault apart from ours.

“It’s nice to have such a great record there. For the first seven or so years, I had only been on the podium. But there was one where Sebastien Bourdais took me out on the first lap, and that is when I didn’t end up on the podium (2016).”

Bourdais and Dixon made contact in the tricky Turn 5 area of the track, sending Dixon into a spin. Both were able to continue in the race and Dixon ultimately finished 10th.

He rebounded in 2017 with another second-place finish but finished sixth last year in a race that was stopped for heavy rain on the scheduled Sunday and concluded on the following Monday morning.

“That was bad,” Dixon said. “I think I was running fourth, and it rained really bad, and I couldn’t see out of my visor. They stopped the race. I actually pulled over on the front straight and went from fourth or fifth all the way back to 10th. They stopped the race on the next lap.

“Then, we were on pace to be second. They continued the race and we were going to a one-stopper and with five or eight laps to go, it rained, and everybody was able to finish.

“It’s been a pretty good run there, though.”

It’s actually been a sensational run at Barber for Dixon; despite the fact he has never won a race there. It seems to suit Dixon’s driving style perfectly, whether it’s wet or dry.

This week’s weather forecast calls for chances of rain throughout the weekend. After all, this is Springtime in the South, and volatile weather is always possible at this time of year.

Indy cars are able to compete in the wet but cannot race in standing water. That was the case in last year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, when the standing water prohibited any racing and with darkness approaching, the call was made to halt the race.

“That track is actually quite good in the rain,” Dixon said. “It has quite good grip. The racing is quite good, as we saw the end of day two on a Monday last year. It provided quite a very good race. But we’ve also been rained out there, too, where we didn’t race on that day or were postponed. You just hope you get the race in on Sunday, and for the fans, too, because it sucks to be in the wet.

“I think that track is cool. It’s a lot of fun in both conditions. It’s very physical. It’s very tough in the dry. It’s quite technical. And in the rain, it’s really high grip, which is quite fun for our cars.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park is action-packed. When IndyCar first tested at that facility more than a decade ago, the general consensus was the track was too narrow. It was originally designed as a motorcycle road course, to provide racing for high-speed machines on two wheels.

Would it work with the high-powered, four-wheel Indy cars?

The answer stunned even the drivers.

“I think for a lot of people, when we first went to Barber, we thought it was going to be one of our worst races ever,” Dixon admitted. “In all seriousness, it’s probably turned out to be our best road course race. The way the tires, Firestone creates degradation and the passing opportunities. It’s one of our best road courses as far as racing and also trying to find speed in qualifying. It’s also action-packed in terms of starts and restarts.

“The race is never quite over, which is interesting. I saw that in a couple of situations where we were second and thought we had it wrapped up and then Rahal passed me on the last lap with massive deg (tire degradation). It definitely throws a lot at you.

“First impressions were it was fun to test at because sometimes they are flat and pretty boring, but that was a track that looked like it would be fun. The racing was a pleasant surprise for a lot of us and we have now come to expect it throughout the years.”

Another surprise was the fan support. Barber and track promoter ZOOM, wanted to offer its spectators a premium experience at the beautiful, tree-lined facility that is reminiscent of golfs “The Masters” at Augusta National in nearby Georgia.

They decided 30,000 to 40,000 would be a good crowd for the facility so that fans could enjoy the experience. The crowds have been every bit of that, with fans bringing their blankets and lawn chairs and lining the hillsides to get a great view of the action in every corner.

It’s also a more diverse type of race fan that comes to Barber, a facility just 40 miles west of NASCAR’s famed Talladega Superspeedway. The two groups of fans couldn’t be more different.

Birmingham, Alabama has become a thriving city of technology. Many of the fans that come to watch IndyCar at Barber are interested in technology. It’s a broad mix in-between the Formula One aficionado and the NASCAR fans.

“It surprised me and me and I think we even saw that from the first time we went to the track, there were a few thousand people that turned up, just for the test,” Dixon recalled. “That’s shocking for any type of test other than Indy or a few exceptions at some other places. But for a track where we had never tested before and with their normal demographic, it was not expected.

“It’s always had a really big fanbase there. The facility, the track, everything is so well kept. I think Barber has a pretty loyal fanbase because of the motorbikes or the diversity it has with the museum, it is one of those one-stop shops that you have a lot to witness.”

Two weeks ago, at Circuit of the Americas, the drivers were allowed to race outside of the white lines and boundaries that are part of the actual race course. That was known as “No Track Limits.” That produced some wild racing as drivers were able to use the paved runoff areas to keep their speed in the turns.

That won’t be the case at Barber.

“I don’t like tracks like that,” Dixon admitted of the “No Track Limit” experience at COTA. “It’s the track you race on. I don’t like tracks that don’t have consequences. COTA is the opposite to Watkins Glen or Road America. It’s kind of silly if you race on the runoff as opposed to racing on the track. I know IndyCar has some fixes for that next year, but personally I prefer tracks that have consequences if you mess it up or get offline. If there is a grass and a wall there or just a wall, that should be a consequence.

“I just think it’s a bit ‘Mickey Mouse’ where you are racing off the track more in some parts than on it.”

Are there consequences at Barber?

“Big time,” Dixon said. “It’s very high speed. The grass and Armco. A couple of areas have some sand but most of the time, it’s grass and Armco. Some of the new tracks have a lot of safety built in with how they are designed, but that creates areas to run off the track.”

Dixon enters the third race of the NTT IndyCar Series season, third in the standings. Newgarden won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and finished second to then 18-year-old Colton Herta two weeks ago at COTA. Dixon was second at St. Pete and 13that COTA.

Although he is only 36 points behind Newgarden, Dixon believes it’s always time to make up some ground.

“There are lots of drivers you don’t want to get too far ahead, but we have come from massive deficits, almost 90 points at one stage two-thirds of the way through the season with Helio Castroneves when we won in 2013,” Dixon recalled. “Until you are out of it, you still have a great shot.

“They are a great team; he’s a great driver, but it’s two races into the season. You don’t want a driver to get a big lead at any stage, but we still have time.

“The start of the year, you see some pretty crazy stuff,” Dixon continued. “I’m not saying Colton’s win was crazy, but you see the points upside-down a little bit. In all due respect, myself, Alexander Rossi and Will Power would have been a lot further up. I feel bummed for Power, for sure. But that’s racing, man. You have to go with the punches. Strategy killed us at COTA, and the timing of the yellow took some people out of the running.

“It’s something IndyCar and some of the drivers have talked about, that lottery situation with yellows. Maybe one day, they will make it more fair, maybe not because that splits the field, creates excitement and creates some chaos. Once you get through the middle part of the season, you start to analyze if you are in the fight or not and who you are fighting.”

A great place to make up ground comes at Barber Motorsports Park, except the driver he is chasing, Newgarden, has won three times since 2015 at that Alabama road course.

It’s the start of IndyCar’s first “back-to-back” weekend of races. As soon as the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is over, the teams head west for the April 14 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach – considered the second-biggest race on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).