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Is NTT IndyCar Series Ready For A Six-Time Champion In Scott Dixon?

Race fans line the streets of Saint Petersburg, some wishing continued success to the reining 2018 NTT IndyCar Series Champion Scott Dixon. Image Credit: Chris Owens via NICS (2019)

Is NTT IndyCar Series Ready For A Six-Time Champion In Scott Dixon?

Last weekend was witness to the beginning of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season-opener through the municipal airport and streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

The main characteristic that will have an overlay effect is that there is nothing new in terms of engine or aerodynamic body parts (other than the usual off-season tweaks to skirt the rules) from the configurations allowed last year. Every team is on the same page given the platform from last year so one would suspect that the strongest teams drivers will percolate to the top of the charts through Practice sessions, Knock-Out Qualifications, and the eventual race end assuming all other things are equal with accidents and track condition Flags (Yellow, Red, or Black).

The eventual race ending Podium reflects this exact predictable result with 2017 IndyCar Champion and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden at P1, the reining 2018 IndyCar Champion and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon at P2, and 2019 Firestone Fast Six NTT P1 Pole Award winner 2018 INDY 500 winner 2014 IndyCar Champion and Team Penske driver Will Power at P3.

One would think that the past early successes that leads to the humming of "Old McDonald Had A Farm" ... as in Penake, Ganassi, Penake, Ganassi Ee - I - Ee - I - Oh ... would be a boring enterprize to turn their attention to and follow all weekend long, but it is anything but boring given the stories that come forward through the struggles of actual competition.

Ganassi Racing's Swedish Rookie driver Felix Rosenqvist fastest during Practice 1 at St. Petersburg. Andretti Autosport drivers outpace Team Penske drivers who are struggling for pace in Practice 1. Scott Dixon at P4 fastest. Image Credit: NTT IndyCar Race Control (2019)

Practice 2 had the cars prepared by, or associated with, Andretti Autosport begin to crowd the top 10 of the speedcharts. Scott Dixon at P13 with Team Penske drivers Newgarden and Power in at P9 and P10 respectively. Image Credit: NTT IndyCar Race Control (2019) 

Penske Racing places all three of their drivers in the top 5 in Practice 3 with Ganassi Racing placing their two drivers at P7 and P8 respectively. Image Credit: NTT IndyCar Race Control (2019)

While the three serious practice sessions give a clue to what may happen during the three round Knock-Out Qualifications format used for street and road courses, nothing is conclusive since there are always those nasty unpredictable factors as track condition Flags, tire wear, weather, and mechanical reliability.

Round 1 Group 1 featured two Red Flags - one for Andretti Autosport Honda No. 98 Marco Andretti who seemed stalled at pit in and one brought out by Dale Coyne Racing Honda No. 19 Santino Ferrucci when he went off course into the tires at Turn 13. The second Red Flag ended the session early and had the effect of knocking out 2016 IndyCar Champion Team Penske Chevrolet No. 22  Simon Pagenaud and 4-Time IndyCar Champion  Dale Coyne Racing Honda No. 18 Sébastien Bourdais.

Turn 4 spin by the Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon had him finish the Round 1 Group 2 Knock-Out Qualifying session at P7. Image Credit: Snipped from NTT IndyCar video (2019)

Round 1 Group 2 featured an on-track spin by Scott Dixon and had Dixon be able to post a lap time but at the end of this session due to his spin, did not post a time quick enough to advance. A penalty was called after the session was over on Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda No. 30 Takuma Sato for going off track, and impeding another driver upon re-entry, allowing the driver at P7 to advance to the next round. That was Scott Dixon. Without being able to move forward, Dixon would have had to grid up for the race at P14.

Round 2 Knock-Out Qualifications session ended with a PENALTY - Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda No.88 Colton Herta has been penalized for qualifying interference. Loss of 2 Fast Laps and will not Advance,  (Rule Advancing to Firestone Fast Six are: Team Penske Chevrolet No. 2 Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet No. 12 Will Power, Andretti Autosport Honda No. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda No. 9 Scott Dixon, Andretti Autosport Honda No. 27 Alexander Rossi and Chip Ganassi Racing Honda No. 10 Felix Rosenqvist.

Firestone Fast Six finishes with 12-Power wining the NTT P1 Award for Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Scott Dixon, five-time and 2018 NTT IndyCar Season Champion driving for Chip Ganassi Racing,  follows eventual 2019 season-opener Firestone Grand Prix Of Saint Petersburg race winner, Penske Racing's and 2017 NTT IndyCar Series Season Champion, Josef Newgarden through Turn 1 at the end of the Saint Petersburg Albert Whitted Municipal Airport. Image Credit: Chris Owens via NICS (2019)

This Excerpted and edited from Firestone Fast Six IndyCar Media Conference - Saturday March 9, 2019

THE MODERATOR: Now joined by the two Chip Ganassi Racing teammates, Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, and Felix Rosenqvist, driving the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. Actually sharing the second row, but Scott, a fourth-place qualifying position for you in tomorrow's race. Your outlook on how qualifying went today? Obviously very action-packed for you but also just the strength of your team with such a strong start for tomorrow.

SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, that was like Christmas, I guess. I don't know. It was scrappy. I think we changed front springs three times, front rear toes, the front wing. It was a bit of a mess. We struggled to get the balance a little bit. Q1 I think we were knocked out until the infraction with Sato and had a spin in Q1, so it was almost like first day back at school and was just a mess.

But all in all, I think the car is pretty strong. It's just not real nice to try and piece together. So I think over the longer run, it seems pretty suitable. Guys in Q1 I think got a little bit lucky with some fresher tires later on with the crash sesh that happened in that one, as well.

But we made the most of it. We could have been 14th, but we're starting fourth. Good spot. Great to have Felix here. He did a hell of a job, and hopefully we can have a podium finish for both the 9 and the 10.

Pitstop and tire selection strategy played a very important role in in the final results. Further, an on-track pass of Will Poser for P2 through Turn 1, Turn 2, and ending before Turn 3 delivered the best points for a car that qualified at P4. It's performances like this that deliver championships at year's end. Image Credit: Chris Jones via NTT IndyCar (2019) 

This excerpted and edited from Post Race IndyCar Media Conference - Sunday March 10, 2019 - Scott Dixon

THE MODERATOR: We will get started with the NTT IndyCar Series post-race press conference for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, joined by our second-place finisher, Scott Dixon.

THE MODERATOR: Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Honda for the team, finishing second, the reigning series champion, matching his best finish here on the streets of St. Pete.

I know a second-place finish always feels a little bit bitter at the end, but are you happy with the way your team has started off the season?

SCOTT DIXON: We always come to these races to win. We came up a little bit short. It was an interesting race. I think between at least the Penske cars and Ganassi cars, it was a bit opposite.

I felt our cars were strong for the first 15, 20 laps, especially on restarts, as well, but the last sort of five to ten, it flipped the other way and they had some really good speed.

Had some great battles out there. Lap traffic was interesting, Will and I had a really tough fight in one, two, and then all the way to three I think it was, and then, you know, it worked out for us.

Scott Dixon hakes hands with his long-time race strategist Mike Hull. Is a sixth championship in the works ... along with a defence of an existing championship title? Only Mike Hull and the driving of Scott Dixon know for sure. Image Credit: Chris Jones via NTT INdyCar (2019)

But all in all, I think strategy-wise and pit stops, it was a clean day for us. I think any of us got out front, as Will [Power] said, had some really good pace, you would have been able to capitalize and Josef's [Car] did that in their strategy, they were able to run and start on new Reds and scuff Reds later. Their pace opened it up. Interesting day, and good points for us and hopefully we can keep maintaining that.

Q. Good racing today out there, a lot of good racing out there today. What is it that you like when you come here and about this course?

SCOTT DIXON: I think it's fun. It's technical. I think it's the atmosphere. The city, as they say, embraces the race and they do. Even walking around downtown, I think everybody, for me, at least living in Indianapolis, it's nice to get some warm weather, especially this week.

But I don't know, the traffic has passing opportunities, turn one, turn four you can maybe get sneaky occasionally, but a lot of circuits don't have that combination. You've got to give Kim (Green) and Kevin (Savoree) a lot of credit, obviously Firestone, too, for sponsoring this event but it just has a great feel about it,, kicking off the season, I think everybody is happy to start the season.

Q. Scott, you mentioned your drink bottle didn't work during the race. In this heat, do you think that had any sort of impact on your mind, body, 110 laps?

SCOTT DIXON: Kept pushing the button a lot thinking it was going to work at some point. It was kind of annoying. It was definitely a physical race, lots of green laps. It was pretty hot out there and the car is moving around a lot, especially on a slight downforce situation, and you have to push the whole time, right, to try to close these gaps. For me it was physical. I think I've had about six bottles of water, so nice to finally get some water.

But yeah, that happens occasionally. Hopefully doesn't happen again.

A Podium P2 finish for the first of 17 races this season which has a new venue in Circuit Of The Americas (COTA) purpose built Formula 1 race course near Austin, Texas as the next race with the season ending at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca being added this year after a 15 year absence. Image Credit: Chris Owens via NTT IndyCar (2019)

Q. I know you've got time to be satisfied, soak in today's race, but looking ahead, a racetrack unlike any other on the circuit, going to COTA, how big a race can that be, and what's your outlook toward that event?

SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, hopefully, we get some good traction there. First time I'd ever been there for the open test. It's definitely a fun city. I think the track itself should race really well for our cars just because the sheer size of it.

Yeah, we'll have to see how it goes, push on the marketing size and get bottoms in seats and keep pushing but I think the race itself should be really good.

Q. How is the dynamic with Felix?

SCOTT DIXON: That's a little hard to compare, to be honest. I think it's been a lot of fun. Felix has worked with the team for two or three years now with open tests we've done with him as a rookie. The guy has got a ton of experience in so many different cars, so it's been really refreshing, actually, to not be in the same ecosystem and thinking of the same things. It's kind of thinking outside the box which has been really refreshing.

But yeah, he's a strong guy, very committed and obviously very talented and he's going to be a hell of a fight for the whole year, and it's nice to be working with somebody really close as far as on the speed side.

Q. Regarding the scarcity of yellows that the NTT IndyCar Series might be heading towards.

SCOTT DIXON: I totally agree. You know, it's nice, if it's random and it falls your way, but the possibility of that is pretty slim. We'd seen that the last two years here with the result. It was just kind of random, flipped the field, and makes for an interesting race maybe.

But as Will kind of said, it's not completely fair, and the teams that are really fast, qualify up front, the ones that get hurt, the leaders always get hurt.

If there's consistency there, that's great. I think we've had a glimpse of that in the past and then kind of went haywire there for a little bit so hopefully, I think as a driver, all you want is it to be a consistent call the whole time.

So, is the NTT IndyCar Series ready for a repeat and defense of the 5th Championship posted by New Zealander Scott Dixon which will result into a very rare 6th NTT IndyCar Series Championship? If the resilient and opportune performance put in by Chip Ganassi Racing's Mike Hull and Scott Dixon, combined with the childhood fan heart shown in the home-made sign trackside (image above) the answer almost looks like a simple ... YES.

... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: NTT IndyCar Series, Scott Dixon, Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Tim Cindric, Takuma Sato, Colton Herta, Simon Pagenaud, Felix Rosenqvist, The EDJE


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