Scott Dixon a fitting champ as IndyCar grieves Justin Wilson's death
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — With a dominating drive on a day worth double points, Scott Dixon once again proved he is one of the greatest IndyCar drivers in open-wheel history.
Dixon overcame long odds to grab his fourth championship by winning the season finale at Sonoma Raceway. The victory pulled him from third in the standings into a tie with Juan Pablo Montoya, with the title going to Dixon on a tiebreaker.
In many ways, it was a fitting win for the driver known as “The Iceman.”
Unfazed by his 47-point deficit to Montoya, he focused on the fact that his Chip Ganassi Racing team at least had a shot should he win the race. If anybody doubted he could do it, shame on them.
Dixon’s 38 wins are fifth on the career list, and he is only the fifth driver to win at least four titles. His first championship came in 2003 when he was 23. The longest employed driver for Ganassi, Dixon added his fourth crown Sunday at the age of 35.
“He’s arguably ‘the’ driver of our generation, ‘the’ IndyCar driver of our generation, for sure,” Ganassi said. “All around, on the track, off the track, he’s the complete package.”
Dixon's win at Sonoma earned him a $1 million bonus for the IndyCar title, and an additional $75,000 from Sunoco for most victories (three) this season.
Off the track, he is one of IndyCar’s greatest ambassadors. It was Dixon who moved his wife and two young daughters to Florida for several months after driver Dan Wheldon’s death in 2011 to support Wheldon’s family. It was Dixon who stayed behind in Pennsylvania last week and was with fellow driver Justin Wilson’s family when he died Monday night after the accident at Pocono a day earlier.
Then it was on to Sacramento and San Francisco and Sonoma for a whirlwind tour of California promoting IndyCar’s finale. On Friday, the first day back at the track for a paddock in mourning, he was quiet, maybe a little distracted. Asked if being back at the track and in a routine helped the drivers grieve, Dixon simply nodded.
“It’s been a very tough week,” he conceded, acknowledging the field was full of “heavy hearts.”
“But as Justin would have wanted, he would have wanted us to go out and race,” he said.
That’s exactly what IndyCar does, time and time again, crisis after crisis.
It has been a season seemingly full of rough patches, beginning with the late cancelation of the scheduled opener in Brazil. So the season instead opened in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the introduction of the new bodykits quickly showed they were too brittle. Any contact left a scattering of debris, and one piece even flew over the grandstands and stuck a bystander.
The inaugural race in New Orleans was a rainy mess, and the series couldn’t get to Indianapolis Motor Speedway fast enough in May to begin preparing for its biggest event of the year. Instead, the buildup was marred by three cars going airborne, leading to a last-minute rules change the morning of qualifying.
One day later, James Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening injury when a broken part from his crashed race car pierced one of his legs.
The Indianapolis 500 did go off without a hitch and was won by Montoya, who drank the celebratory milk 15 years after his first 500 victory.
From there, it was Montoya’s championship to lose. He had led the standings from the season opener and his only real challenge seemed to be from Graham Rahal, the lone Honda driver who could keep pace with all the big-time Chevrolet teams.
Rahal sliced Montoya’s lead in the standings to just nine points with two races remaining, but he was wrecked early a week ago at Pocono to pretty much sink his chances. Still, the turnaround of single-car team Rahal Letterman Lanigan from barely competitive last year to championship contender was one of the highlights of the IndyCar season.
Rahal is quietly helping to raise money for Wilson’s family, just as he did in 2011 when he organized an auction that raised $627,203 for Wheldon’s family. On Sunday, all the drivers posed in a group photo with a race-worn helmet they had committed to a Wilson auction.
It was one of many Wilson tributes that made it a somber day leading into a popular win.
But because it’s IndyCar, the race is not without its own controversy. Montoya was clearly frustrated all weekend knowing that the race would be worth double points, and the IndyCar gimmick cost him the title.
In fairness, Montoya also won the only other race this season worth double points—the Indy 500—but he was annoyed that six drivers remained in contention for the title headed into Sunday.
“Is it fair for a normal championship? No,” he said. “But it’s the rules they want to play with, and if you don’t like the rules, don’t race.”
And after Dixon and Ganassi crowd-surfed in celebration, he hardly sounded like a driver who believes IndyCar is in trouble.
“I love IndyCar racing. I think the Verizon IndyCar Series is one of the best series in the world,” he said. “We put on amazing races, and the talent that we have here, the depth is fantastic. I feel blessed and love waking up being an IndyCar racer as a champion and hope for many more years.”