A year ago, Scott Dixon came to one of his favorite courses and had one of the most trying weekends of his racing career.
A five-time winner at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Dixon faced reporters two days before the race and, along with his team owner, discussed having Target pull its sponsorship of Chip Ganassi Racing at the end of the season after 27 years.
That media event was followed by Dixon’s last-place finish 48 hours later in the Honda Indy 200 because of mechanical issues.
He’s in a much better spot entering the race Sunday at Mid-Ohio.
The 37-year-old New Zealander leads the IndyCar standings with 423 points, three more than Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves.
A new main sponsor (NTT Data) wasn’t the only change for Dixon’s No. 9 car this year. After three seasons with Chevrolet, Ganassi has returned to Honda engines.
“We had a really big offseason but it was a positive to have such a change,” he said. “We were getting, not complacent, but we were continuing to do the same things over and over. So it was nice to have almost like a shiny new toy that we could change our approach to how we mechanically set up the car to how we approach race weekend.”
He won at Road America in Wisconsin on June 25 and has 11 top-10 finishes in 12 races, including five podium appearances.
Dixon won on Mid-Ohio’s 13-turn, 2.258-mile course in 2007, ’09, ’11, 12 and ’14 and has nine top-10 finishes in 12 starts at the track.
“It’s similar to a lot of the tracks I grew up driving in New Zealand,” he said Friday. “It’s quite an aggressive track. You can get a lot out of it by building on each lap. The track likes sort of loose or neutral cars, so if you like an under-steering car you struggle here a lot more. It’s the balance of a having a car I prefer that is better suited here, but it’s also the team is very good here.”
It hasn’t hurt that Chip Ganassi Racing has 10 victories at Mid-Ohio, although Dixon’s three years ago was the last.
Dixon, sixth in points last season, won’t give up the points lead easily even with Team Penske holding the second through fifth positions.
“He’s extremely underappreciated,” driver Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “I think he’s a legend, what he’s accomplished. I don’t want to say too much because I’m racing against him every weekend but it’s amazing what he’s been able to accomplish through the years.”
Dixon’s 41 wins, including the 2008 Indianapolis 500, are the most among active IndyCar drivers. He has also won season points championships in 2003, ’08, ’13, and ’15.
“I love being able to do what I do in the sport I love,” he said. “IndyCar is a very unique series with many different disciplines – short ovals, speedways, of course the street courses. It’s a very difficult championship to win.”
AROUND THE COURSE
Honda and Chevrolet alternated the top six spots after Friday’s two practice sessions. Hunter-Reay (Honda) had the top speed of 126.428 miles per hour followed by Josef Newgarden at 126.150. Dixon was third (126.045) ahead of 2016 winner Simon Pagenaud (125.906), who set a qualifying record last year with a lap of 127.271. Alexander Rossi (125.763) and Will Power (125.672) completed the top sixth while Honda took the next two spots with Marco Andretti and (125.489) and Graham Rahal (125.450). Qualifying is Saturday.