Scott Dixon reflects on his IndyCar future and the importance of family in his success

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Scott Dixon celebrated his sixth NTT IndyCar Series championship in a manner befitting of a self-described laid-back driver and family man.

Dixon, his wife, Emma, and their two daughters, Poppy and Tilly, went to the house of some friends who live in St. Petersburg, enjoying a quiet evening of conversation, wine and Taco Bell, (which Dixon said remains “definitely my go-to” despite an infamous drive-thru visit three years ago).

“Gone are the days of massive nights of celebrating, especially in current times,” Dixon told NBC Sports with a chuckle. “I think I was in bed and asleep by maybe 11:30 or midnight. It was a nice way to celebrate, actually. It was good to wake up without a hangover and feel pretty good the next day.”

IndyCar Scott Dixon future
Scott Dixon, wife Emma and daughters Poppy and Tilly celebrate after the 2020 season finale (James Black/IndyCar).

With newborn son Kit (who was born in December), there actually was a silver lining from the pandemic that delayed the start of the Indy Car season. After a busy offseason that included the Rolex 24 (with the winning team) and Bathurst 12 Hours, Dixon was ready to spend a few months in lockdown to connect with his family, which often is traveling.

His girls are attending school in Great Britain but were able to attend his title-clinching performance at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Kit remained with Emma’s family in the U.K., which Dixon described as “kind of a bummer” but also providing some incentive. “It just means we’ll have to try to go for another (championship) to get those pictures with him in the next year or two,” said Dixon, who turned 40 in July and has no intention of leaving IndyCar anytime soon.

During a Tuesday morning interview with NBC Sports, Dixon reflected on his family’s influence on his results, his team’s makeup, how much longer he’ll drive and what’s ahead for IndyCar:

Q: The Chip Ganassi Racing Twitter account posted a video of you and Emma holding hands and sharing a kiss after the championship celebration. You’ve said she’s your best teammate; what does she mean to your success and how does the relationship work in balancing the personal and professional?

“We’re soulmates. We’re quite different people, I’m pretty quiet, pretty laid-back. She is British, so they love to talk. She’s very outgoing. She brought me out of my shell a lot, I think, especially when we first started dating and went on to marriage (in 2008) and kids and all that kind of stuff. I feel like we bounce off each other really well, but she’s made me a better person and brought an attention to detail when it comes to family and what’s really meaningful and things like that. We’re a super tight team. And I think we always have been from the get-go. Obviously, your life changes a lot with whether it’s racing to where you’re living to having kids.

“We’re a team, man. We talk through everything. I think she’s a great inspiration for me. Her and Chip are probably the two most competitive people I think I’ve ever met. To have her pushing me when I come home sometimes if it’s a bit of a bad time in whatever season. She definitely keeps the glue together in the family but also keeps me motivated. And I think having her athletic side, too, and understanding the importance of nutrition and recovery and all of those situations. And this year maybe even more so with a lot of the doubleheader weekends or back-to-back races or really not knowing what the landscape is going to be, she’s always there in massive support. She gets a lot of credit in all the success, that’s for sure.”

Q: Did she help keep things steady when you had the four-race tailspin at Mid-Ohio and Indy that put the championship back in play?

“She actually got really stressed. I think this year was very different for us, and actually for a lot of people with the outside stuff, but just with how the championship played. It’s the first time I’ve ever won a championship leading it from the start to finish. So then there was a bit of bleeding going on, and then it was trying to stop the bleeding with Mid-Ohio and the Indy road course. It was the most stressed I think I’ve ever been because you see the end is near, but you don’t want to be one of those statistics. Luckily, we’ve been very fortunate and on the right side of that where we’ve come back from major deficits and even stolen some championships if you want to look at it that way.

“Emma is a very emotional person. So I think through that period of time, she was very supportive. She did a very good job of trying to contain her emotions. I think that was the biggest thing for her. I’m sure some moments she just wanted to scream, ‘What are you guys doing?’

“I think the biggest thing for me is when I come home, man, I’m so happy to be home. And with the kids, it kind of gave you a bit of a different outlook on things, but also able to snap away from the intensity of racing. So having that craziness at home and the support has helped a lot, especially in the last three to four championships.”

Scott Dixon and his wife, Emma, attending the premiere of the “Born Racer” documentary about his 2107 season (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

Q: Because of the pandemic-related restrictions and schedule changes, was this championship more difficult because there were things that might have worked with the last five titles but not this time?

“I think every championship is so different anyway. From how it starts to how it ends and the adversities you have throughout the season. The championships are like kids, you love them all equally, but they’re all very different. A lot of that is really about the team. That’s where they’re so strong. They’re very adaptive. You look at the championships that we’ve won, not just me, but even with Dario and going through the changes when it’s a new engine formula to aerokits to the aeroscreen. These big changes, they’re able to adapt very quickly. A lot of credit is of course to Chip and his team and our team and everyone that works together.

“That’s where the IndyCar Series is so crazy. You can never do one thing the same. Look at the Indy GP to the Harvest GP. We dominated one but sucked at the next two. You’re going to the same track, the weather is the only difference, so it’s tough. Those are the holes you have to try and pull yourself out of.”

Q: And one constant you have is a team full of people who always stick together?

“They’re ruthless, man. And the thing is, when I walked through that door (at Ganassi) in 2002, it was extremely intimidating because I wouldn’t say they’re the friendliest bunch. But you know they’re there for only a few reasons: a love for the sport and racing but also the love of winning.”

Q: Have you given more input with hiring the guys on your team?

“I try not to get involved in any of that. I don’t feel like it’s my place. If I’m asked questions, I’ll obviously give my two cents. But I think the team is good for many reasons, and they do that well. I am a pretty simple person. I try not to make things complicated. I think when you start diving into who does what and who should be where, it just gets so complicated. And I don’t want to have decisions like that hanging over my head, either. This has always been a great group of people. There’s a lot of depth to the team. It has gone through changes, but the team obviously does a really good job with getting the people they need to, and they’re also very good at keeping those people.”

IndyCar Scott Dixon future
Team owner Chip Ganassi and Scott Dixon enjoyed their championship hardware Thursday at the IndyCar Victory Lap ceremony (Chris Owens/IndyCar).

Q: Will Power recently said he has lost none of his touch and could see driving into his mid-40s at least. How much longer do you envision doing this, and do you also feel as if you are as good as ever?

“Will’s saying that because he’s just about to turn 40 (chuckles). Man, I don’t know. Again, I feel so lucky doing what I’m doing. I didn’t think it would last this long, for one. But the fire burns strong, the love for the sport. I get to work with the best in the business. So of course, I don’t want to see this change for a long time. But obviously things do, so we’ll have to see where it goes. Yeah. I’m committed for at least another two, three, four years, I think.

“Age is just a number to me. I don’t think it is really anything. I think it’s all really about motivation. I think it’s about the people around you. But if you look at the likes of Sato is 44, TK hopefully is back next year at 46. Jimmie Johnson is coming over at 45. Jimmie has freaked me out, man, with how intense this guy is and the energy that he has for what he has achieved. Man, he blows my phone up constantly. ‘Hey, what about this? Do you think we should do this? What about this training?’ Man, he’s full on. He’s not slowing down at all.”

Q: It might stem in part from a youth movement in NASCAR that Jimmie and other veterans have faced the past few seasons. Does it seems as if IndyCar is on the cusp of a similar changing of the guard with emergence of Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward Alex Palou, Rinus VeeKay and others?

“Yeah, man, I think it’s awesome. I think it’s so cool to see the likes of these young drivers coming through. It’s huge for the sport. It’s part of evolution. It’s going to happen. You can’t stop it. I think what is cool is that the talent that is coming through, you look at the likes of Herta, Pato, VeeKay, Palou (who was announced as a new teammate Thursday), (Santino) Ferrucci to some extent, Felix (Rosenqvist) and Marcus (Ericsson). It’s definitely getting to that change of the guard situation. They are really good. They’re already starting to be title contenders. It’s not the period where you see a couple of guys come in for a year or two and then you never really hear of them again. These are going to be staples of the championship for a long time. And these are the guys that you are going to have to compete against for championships. Not just for race weekends here and there. They’re starting to put whole seasons together, and that’s when it gets touchy.”

Q: The champion often gets asked the big-picture questions, so what do you think is the largest issue that IndyCar should be addressing now?

“I think that is a question for a lot of people right now, but I don’t know, man, it sounds like everything is really good, which is kind of shocking. Normally you get to this part of the season, and there’s a few teams like, ‘Oh, we don’t know what we’re doing next year. We don’t know if we’re going to be able to pull it off,’ or manufacturers are discussing how long they’re going to stay on for, but you look at the situation with the manufacturers to Roger (Penske). IndyCar is super strong right now. I think we’re going to have a bigger grid next year. We might be 25, 26 cars, which in my mind right now is insane. It’s really good. TV numbers have been good. IndyCar has a great plan for the future with hybrid and bringing in other manufacturers. Everything has structure right now and meaningful timing.

“I’m impressed. Obviously it’s not just Roger, but I think it was a godsend that he came in at the point that he did. Which gave everybody the stability and understanding that everything is going to be all right. Because (the pandemic) is going to knock a lot of series to the core over this next couple of years. I feel great for IndyCar. It’s got some amazing people running the series right now, which is great to see.”

IndyCar Scott Dixon future
(Chris Owens/IndyCar)

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”