Dixon hopes to advance from the worst Indy 500 start of his career


INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon normally starts up front in the Indianapolis 500. He has started on the pole three times, including 2008 when he scored his only Indy 500 win.

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This year has been a different story for the five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion. He starts 18thin Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500, the worst of his career in the 500-Mile Race.

“We have been very average,” Dixon said.

He also experienced a mechanical problem on his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in Friday’s final day of practice on Carb Day.

Dixon told NBC Sports Saturday morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the team found the mechanical issue and said it was a “mistake” on the setup. Dixon won’t get a chance to test the new setup until the green flag drops to start Sunday’s Indy 500 at 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

“Hopefully, we can fix it and have a much better day on Sunday,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “We were horrible. We think something mechanical was really off with the car. All in all, it was a pretty rough practice.

“The cars were freshly put together and sometimes when you put a fresh car together, you put something on their wrong. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Race Day looks like it is going to be cooler. Here, it’s more of a mental game.”

Dixon is starting his 17thIndianapolis 500 on the outside of Row 6. It gives him a different approach to the start of the race, than if he were starting further up front.

“You need to move up as quick as possible,” Dixon said. “The only concern is the risk it puts you in is at the start of the race. You really don’t want to be in an altercation at the start. Speed-wise, I think we can move forward as quickly as possible.

“Track temperature is the culprit right now. With the new surface that has been laid down, it attracts the heat. That is what we fight the most now because it affects the tire the most. I think it’s better for racing because you get a better reading of a good car winning, rather than all the cars running equal.”

Dixon believes his experience can help with the process, but he also believes a newcomer can bring a fresh attitude because they don’t know what to expect.

Race week is the most difficult for a driver in the Indy 500 field because they have a full week to talk about what they think they are going to do in the race.

Monday’s 2-1/2-hour practice session came in cool conditions with a high of 60. Friday’s “Carb Day” practice was near 90 degrees with high humidity.

INDYCAR Photo by Stephen KingDixon prefers hot weather better suits his style and race car.

“Our cars on hot days have been pretty good,” Dixon said. “The heat always magnifies bad things. The good cars are going to be better. Until we get to race day, you never really know.”

Dixon believes the winner needs to have a clean day. If that driver makes a mistake, it has to happen early in the race, so they have time to recover over 200 laps of hard racing.

It’s a team sport and with seven to nine pit stops, the team has to be on top of its game during the crucial time to refuel the car and put on new tires.

It’s all about execution.

“It’s impossible to get everything right in a 3-1/2-hour race, but that is what sets the winner apart in this race,” Dixon said. “We have a bigger window of changes to the car from last year, but it’s not giant.

“The good teams typically execute better. That doesn’t guarantee you anything, either.

“You need to find that ‘Golden Ticket’ you think is going to help you.”

Mario Andretti has been honored all month for the 50thAnniversary of his only Indianapolis 500 win in 1969. Andretti won four IndyCar Series championships and 52 races in his career.

Dixon is a five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion with 44 career victories.

In many ways, a good comparison could be made between those two drivers because both should have won the Indy 500 more times than once.

“I don’t think this place, or any place owes me anything,” Dixon said. “I feel very fortunate that we have won it once. Hey, if we didn’t get it right; we didn’t get it right. That’s our fault.

“I’ve stepped on my own feet a couple of times to make that worse. We have strategy-wise, too. There were a few we had a pretty clear run on it but didn’t get it done.

“I feel pretty fortunate we have won here once. It’s the same goal for everybody. We are here to try to win, unfortunately there are 32 others that want the same thing.

“It would be fine if it were just the 9 car running on Sunday, but that’s not the case.”

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”