Q. Scott, it’s been brought up a couple times already that you’ve won your previous championships five years apart. You won in 2003, you won in 2008 and now it’s 2013. Is there some sort of formula that you have every five years?
SCOTT DIXON: No, and like I’ve mentioned before, I think if (team owner) Chip (Ganassi) had known it was an every five years thing I might have moved around a bit. But you can’t rely on stats like that, especially for us, every year we compete we try to win the championship, and I think definitely over the last five or six years we’ve had a good shot sort of going into the last one each of those years.
It’s a good situation for us to be in and one that we’ll dig deep and try and carry out next weekend, but obviously with the competition against Penske and Helio, a very accomplished team and a very accomplished driver, it’s not going to be easy at all. As typical of many IndyCar Series championships, I think it’s going to come down to the last lap, last corner scenario. For us, we just hope that we’re on the good receiving end.
Q: You could win the title with a finish of fifth Fontana. Does having the championship lead change the way you approach the finale or does seeing what happened to Helio at Houston or last year to Will Power at Fontana change the way you approach the race?
SCOTT DIXON: I think for us the easiest way to approach it is how we typically approach a race weekend, and that’s to go there setting our sights on winning it. If we can achieve that, then it makes the championship story just sort of unfold. It’ll be a tough situation. Helio and Chevy were quick at the (Sept. 24) test. Chevys have proven to be very fast on these bigger circuits, two mile, two‑mile plus. It’s not going to be easy by any means and something that we’re going to have to fight to the bitter end. We’ll go into the weekend obviously trying to achieve a win.
Q: You’re one of the two drivers, you and Tony Kanaan, are going into this final 500‑mile race with a chance to win the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown, a bonus of $250,000. Obviously talk a little bit about the win at Pocono and setting you up heading into this 500‑mile race.
SCOTT DIXON: I think for us Pocono was, as I’ve mentioned many times before, I think I got out of the car and said to Chip it would be fitting to be in this position at the end of the day. Going into that race we did have an engine change, which was different, a little bit better, but still only qualified seventh, I think, which was the fastest number for qualifying that weekend. It was dominated mostly by Chevy. It was a tough race and a race where strategy played out a little bit. We just didn’t have to really lean out at all, whereas the Chevys struggled a little more on fuel mileage, which seems like they’ve taken care of that at recent races. So it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out over a 500‑miler. It was a dream weekend for us obviously sweeping the podium with all three Ganassi cars. Target Racing was lined up to win its 200th and it was I think my 30th career win. It was a pleasant surprise, and to be able to be one of the people to have the opportunity, both the two wins out of the three for the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown deal, it’s exciting.
I obviously have to thank Fuzzy’s Vodka for bringing back the Triple Crown and obviously supporting it the way that it has. That’s another added bonus of where we’ll have to dig deep and try and win that race. It would be pretty special.
Q: We talked about a week or so go getting ready for the Auto Club Speedway, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s been raining like crazy for two days, but it looks like the weather is going to be good. Any different strategy that you’re going to have to apply for Auto Club Speedway, even though it doesn’t look like a technical track but it is for your types of cars?
SCOTT DIXON: With the changes that INDYCAR has made throughout the last couple years, the two‑mile ovals typically hadn’t been massively technical. It was more sort of a race strategy and trying to put yourself in the right position with pack racing. I think last year we saw a fantastic race come down to the wire. It’s a track that has a lot of character. It’s got seams but opposite the car, a few bumps and different grip levels, mostly on Turn 2 and some big bumps going into 3, and obviously the time the race starts sort of adds another area of difficulty to it with the glare and obviously some ‑‑ for the drivers. It’s a tough track. The cars are very light on downforce.
The last two weeks, a big falloff from 215s all the way down to 200s or below. Firestone has changed the tire slightly, which it seems like the speeds are up which is due to probably engine performance somewhat, and then obviously the falloff is slightly less than what we had last year. For sure we get an hour‑and‑a‑half practice before we go into qualifying, and every one of those sessions is going to be a big deal for how the weekend plays out and obviously preparation.
Q: Scott, IndyCar drivers, you guys always race on the edge. Does that help you, being that that’s your job, help you when more is on the line, like one more race to the championship?
SCOTT DIXON: I think with the different personalities throughout INDYCAR, some are better with pressure than some of the others, but I think everybody, once you’re at this level, to get to this level in racing, you’ve had to achieve quite a lot throughout your career and everybody is really accomplished. But it’s hard; racing is a little different to some other sports where it can be the one person, whether you look at athletics and running or something like that, it’s just you yourself out there and you can make the difference. With auto racing, you’ve got a lot of people that play big parts in the race but also the preparation of the cars, and also mechanical issues that we saw strike Helio on the weekend.
You can go in, and the way I look at it is that you can make sure that you’re prepared the best that you can, and when you’re done with the race, the only time you should feel happy is if you’ve put in your 100 percent and done everything that was possible. It is tough. There are many highs and lows to racing, but sometimes I’ve gone through something that you do specifically. I don’t know. I think everybody in this situation would react somewhat similar. It’s just depending on the difficulties that you have on race day that may change some of the outcomes?
Q: So there really isn’t kind of any magic way to handle the stress of knowing what you’re going into?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, I think it’s going back to what I said earlier, just making sure that you’ve prepared yourself, you’ve made sure that you’ve given it your 100 percent. That’s all that you can do. If that makes a difference, that’s fantastic. But I think you can over-analyze situations too much. In the race you can’t be constantly thinking, OK, if I’m here, Helio needs to be there. You need to keep a fresh mind, a clear mind so that you can make good decisions at the time when it’s tough. I think it’s about not putting too much pressure on yourself, giving it your best, and not over-analyzing things.
Q: Obviously the big team announcement this week. Two parts, actually: First, with Tony joining up for 2014, but we’ll get to that later, more importantly (Alex Tagliani) stepping in next weekend, what are your thoughts on that and what do you make of having the chance to have another teammate this weekend at Fontana.
SCOTT DIXON: I’m sure as Tag has put out there before, it’s a tough situation for anybody to be in. Personally, I would have liked Dario (Franchitti) to be there next weekend and to be in fighting spirits and helping me win the championship. But it’s nice to know that Dario is doing OK. He’s going to mend well, but obviously he can’t race at the moment and won’t be able to come out for a little bit. I think Tag was a solid choice. As a team, the drivers and myself, we don’t have much control in situations like that, but I think Chip and (managing director) Mike (Huill) and (team managers) Barry (Wanser) and Scott (Harner) and everybody, I think they picked the best guy. I’m great friends with Tag. We hang out a fair bit, and it makes it an easy transition. And obviously last year Alex was very fast at Fontana until he had a mechanical issue and exited the race, but he was running, I think, in first or second position for most of the later parts of it. So welcome to the team, and as I said, he’s a good friend and a hell of a competitor, and he’s going to be tough to beat there next weekend, I think.
Q: I’m curious about your take on the track conditions over the weekend. Did you ever feel unsafe at any point in that race?
SCOTT DIXON: I think with drivers you’re just wanting to get around the track fast. I think that the track had changed a little bit, either from when some of the other drivers had been racing on that track in ’07 or from what I had seen visually on replays of the track itself. But I think the biggest issue of the weekend was the frontstretch and how big the bumps were, which safety is not a massive issue, it’s more about making the cars last and get through a race distance. That was a bit of an issue that plagued us, I think, mostly on Friday, and then they seemed to come up with a better scenario come Saturday and Sunday.
It was a time crunch for everybody at the track to get it ready, and I think it was 96 hours or something, and I think they did a great job at that. But I think when we have accidents or scenarios like we did over the weekend, it makes you think different areas, makes you try and help some of the safety areas that might have been highlighted after the accident. But myself personally, no, I didn’t think that safety‑wise it was much of an issue. The only time I kind of thought that was when it rained pretty hard on the Sunday morning, I think, for qualifying, with the standing water, and I think INDYCAR made a sound decision to start off on owners points.
Q: I assume you’ve been in touch with Dario. What can you say about his condition and his spirits?
SCOTT DIXON: As we all know, he was pretty beat up. I think he arrives back in Indy today, so that’s a good thing. I know he’s got control of his phone again, so that’s a good sign. You know, he seems to be in good spirits. I know he wants to come out to Fontana and support the team, so we’ll see how his recovery goes and see what choice he makes on coming out to the West Coast. But very lucky and just sad that he’s not going to be my teammate come next weekend to try and finish this out.
Q: I talked with you about a week‑and‑a‑half ago when you were going to go out and shoot a shotgun. Seems that your aim is a little bit more focused than that, especially after the week you had in Houston. About a year ago at this time it was quite interesting, there was a photo op with the four leading drivers, and you and Helio were basically filling out a photo opportunity. How does it feel to be leading the points and having Helio so close to you a year later, actually being the photo opportunity?
SCOTT DIXON: It’s always nice to be in this situation. It’s what we race for each year. We set two goals: One firstly to win the Indy 500 and one secondly to win the championship. Obviously we did a little poorly at the first, and this was kind of a late sort of stage, I think once we hit Pocono kind of thing, so as a car performance and team performance in general we needed to pick it up. It’s been sort of a strange season with the ups and downs we’ve had. It’s great to be fighting for it. Helio’s year has been a little bit different in the fact that he’s been I think in the top three of the championship for most of the year and led the points tally for a good part of the season. For us, we just hope to be leading at the right time of the year, after the race next weekend.
Yeah, it’s great to always be in a fight for the championship, but obviously this year is a little different than the last. Excited, a little bit nervous, butterflies. Hopefully it’s just competitiveness and wanting to do well and wanting to win this championship. It’s a tough one to be a part of to start with, and then even tougher to be fighting it out where many of the other great drivers in the world.
Q: You mentioned starting out the season a little bit slow and then really coming on strong. What do you feel is the biggest major component or change that you saw during the year that allowed you to come forward and start scoring the points?
SCOTT DIXON: I don’t know, hard work, I think. I think the team, we had ourselves in a bit of a rut at the start of the year and struggled a little bit with where we went on the development side of things with the car. We had a turnaround point with that before we got to Toronto with the (June 26) Sebring test, which obviously was a big deal for us. And then the next situation I think was with Honda, sort of with engine specs and development. But all of it sort of comes down to hard work and making sure that they stayed in the hunt of it and trying to make the most of what we had.
Q: I know you said you don’t want to overanalyze things at Fontana once the race starts, but I’m just curious, knowing that fifth or better will get you the title, the first half of the race do you sort of let the race come to you and sort of let things play out, or are you going to be aggressive from the get‑go?
SCOTT DIXON: I think it’s a hard situation to obviously look at, depending on how the race sort of plays out from the get‑go. I think that’s the biggest thing for us is making sure that we don’t rush into things. It is a 500‑mile race, and that’s how we approach a typical 500‑mile race. You’re kind of just analyzing how the situation is, what stuff we need to work on, how we need to better it throughout the race distance, and then obviously maybe looking at the competition and seeing where they’re strong and how we need to sort of change our approach, whether it’s strategy and maybe turning it into a bit of a fuel race to try and win that race, or if we’ve got straight‑up speed then race as hard as we possibly can for the win.
Q: I wanted to know, having won two championships already, does it give you maybe a mental edge over Helio, who’s still chasing a championship, and do you think you can play on that during the race?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, I guess there are two sides of the fence for that. Having won it, you become complacent sometimes or not push as hard. That’s definitely not the case for me. Once you win one, you want to win the next one even more so. And then obviously Helio’s side where he hasn’t had a chance of winning a championship, or he has had a chance but hasn’t won one. He’ll be digging deep to try and pull that through, pull it off. Championships every year are so different. The one I won in ’03 I think we had five or six DNFs and won three races and still won the championship. We came into the last race, I think there were five or six drivers with the opportunity to win, and we ended up pulling that off. And then ’08 I think we had an 86‑point lead with four races to go and almost lost it. Each year is very different. Each final race is very different. We just have to approach it how we normally do to try and win the race, and if that scenario works out then you’re looking good.
I don’t think it helps ‑‑ it helps that the team has been there and done that before in some areas maybe, but you also have to be very careful to not become complacent.
Q: The new cars were built hopefully to prevent the launching of the cars. That’s exactly what we’ve seen with Dario’s incident. As a driver, what do you feel, what areas should they move toward to prevent what happened?
SCOTT DIXON: I know a lot of the areas that were worked on the car were obviously the rear bumpers and trying to stop cars from running over each other front and back. The side sort of stuff is a little more difficult, then with the addition of Turn 5 at Houston with the very off‑camber crowned sort of road, and then typically the speed and the way the car sort of collected, it’s going to be a tough one to improve them greatly in a short period of time. How they’d achieve that, I’m not too sure. I think on the other hand what the car went through and how Dario’s crash sort of played out, you know, he was lucky, but the car did exactly what it should have, and a lot of the side intrusion things were vastly improved, which I think helped a lot. Having seen the car after the wreck, it’s done its job.
It’s going to be an ever‑evolving side of racing in general and side to IndyCar racing to try and improve these situations and make them better. Will you ever stop them? Probably not. That’s the reality of cars racing very fast and achieving very high speeds in confined spaces. I think we definitely saw the advantages of some of the safety things that have been added to the cars throughout the years, and INDYCAR is as always ever pushing on and trying to make them safer, and they are. That’s the positive side of it. But still reality, man. It’s racing, fast cars, and some tricky positions sometimes.
Q: Yesterday Penske announced they’re adding AJ Allmendinger to their lineup with the express reason to help Helio win the championship. You’ve got Tag joining you. Can these guys actually play a part on track? In the pits we’ve seen some shenanigans going on, but can these guys have an influence on what happens in the race?
SCOTT DIXON: I guess anybody in the race can change what’s going on, not just the addition of a couple of guys. Both are very accomplished and very good drivers, great track records, and obviously AJ spent some time at the start of the year, and also Tag did most of the year. So I think they’ll fit in great. It’s not just the driver’s championship that’s up for grabs. There’s a lot of emphasis on the manufacturer’s championship, too, which is basically going to go to the highest place engine manufacturer for that weekend. I can see that definitely is more meaningful from Chevy’s side adding another opportunity to try and win, and AJ was very quick in Indianapolis. But to have team orders and to try and have them play out is almost impossible at races, where even you’re in pit stalls or even close to each other is another thing.
It’s good for the sport, great for competition, and it’s definitely good to have Tag on our side of the team, and he’s going to do extremely well, and it’s great to see AJ back in the IndyCar Series.
Q: I believe Roger Penske said they’re going to take the 10 spot penalty and give Helio a fresh engine. Is that an option for you? Have you discussed that yet?
SCOTT DIXON: I don’t know the complete details of it yet. I know our engine is well within mileage. I know probably from what everybody else hears that there are different specs or newer specs for Chevy and for Honda. For us, the problem is once I or Helio take ‑‑ it’ll be a sixth engine, we both get 10 grid penalties, and then we’re not viable to carry the points for the engine manufacturer after the fifth engine, as well. There’s different things that fall into that. Do you also want to be running a new spec at a 500‑mile race, another discussion that you probably ‑‑ at a superspeedway or two‑mile oval you probably want to try and take the extra horsepower that’s probably on hand, too. I’m sure that’s going to be a discussion throughout this week and obviously as we’re getting closer to Friday when we’re on track. But a 10 spot penalty at Fontana is probably not going to make or break your day, and then with the addition of it being a 500‑mile race, it should wash out.