For a five year period that ended in 2006, Scott Dixon was the youngest-ever winner of an Indy car race. The native of Auckland, New Zealand was just 20 years old when he triumphed in a CART-sanctioned race at Nazareth Speedway in 2001.
Dixon joined Target/Ganassi Racing’s IRL IndyCar Series team in 2003 and - still just 22 - won on his debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He qualified fourth for his first Indianapolis 500 and led 15 laps but lost his chance for a top five finish when he embarrassingly spun and crashed near the start/finish line while warming his tires behind the Pace Car.
“My fault,” he said. “But the whole month was a huge experience for me. I never knew that it was this big - the atmosphere is awesome.”
Dixon went on to win the 2003 IndyCar Series championship. But for the next two years, Ganassi Racing and the other Toyota-powered teams were outclassed by Honda-powered entries. Dixon was Toyota’s top finisher at Indianapolis in eighth place in 2004, and he crashed out after running as high as sixth in the 2005 ‘500.’
With Honda power like everyone else in 2006, Dixon finished sixth at Indianapolis. A year later, he was one of three drivers contending for victory at Indy and was running second when rain ended the race after 415 miles.
The 2007 race had been red-flagged earlier after 113 of the 200 laps were completed. Teams were not allowed to work on their cars during the rain delay, but several elected to immediately pit during the two yellow-flag laps that preceded the restart. Target/Ganassi Racing pitted Dixon in a strategic move to put him out of sequence with the main pack.
Dixon dropped to 14th place, right behind Dario Franchitti, who had pitted at the same time with a punctured tire. That pair now had about 20 laps more fuel than the leaders, and after a cycle of green flag pit stops, Franchitti and Dixon were running 1-2 when a heavy downpour brought an end to the race after 166 laps.
“Every time we come to Indy, this race means so much to us,” he said. “If you come away with anything less than first place, you feel incomplete or depleted. We have to work harder next year to make sure we stay near the front and control this race.”
True to his word, Dixon went on to dominate the 2008 Indianapolis 500. After establishing himself and Ganassi Racing as the overwhelming favorites in the two-week buildup to the race, Dixon delivered by leading 115 of 200 laps to take a relatively unchallenged win over Vitor Meira and Marco Andretti.
Dixon also earned his second IndyCar Series championship crown in 2008.
“I was shocked, almost dumbfounded,” Dixon said after his Indy 500 triumph. “It’s such a strange feeling. I don’t show emotions too much and it’s almost like you are in a dreamland. It’s kind of crazy. It’s like you’re waiting for someone to pinch you to wake you up when you’re sleeping in your bed back home.
“I was definitely yelling a lot in the radio and punching my fist in the air and I think I almost took out three cars on the cool down lap,” he added. “The last 30 laps you feel quite alone out there, thinking ‘It’s down to me, I hope I don’t mess up.’ It is such a special moment but all you want to do is get back to the pits and see the people who helped you get there. This is sweeter that winning a championship because you work for three weeks and it comes down to one day when you have to make everything happen. We know now how much work goes into winning this race.”
Dixon led the most laps at Indianapolis in 2009 (73), but he lost the lead to eventual winner Helio Castroneves on a restart after one of the day’s eight caution periods, then dropped to seventh after a slow final pit stop. He ultimately finished sixth.
Dixon’s fifth place finish at Indianapolis in 2010 was followed by another lost opportunity in 2011 when once again the Ganassi machines looked like the cars to beat. Dixon again led a race-high 73 laps but both Ganassi drivers ran out of fuel on the last lap despite running wildly different pit stop strategies.
Dixon made his final stop with 21 laps to go, but the car didn’t receive enough fuel and he ran dry in the final run to the flag, leaving him fifth for the second consecutive year.
“We stopped 10 laps later on than anybody else on any strategy so there’s no way we should have run out of fuel,” he said. “I definitely leave here thinking that I should have won my second ‘500.’”
Dixon has finished in the top six at Indianapolis every year since 2006.
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