Scott Dixon has established himself as one of the all-time greats of American motor racing after winning the IndyCar championship for the fourth time. The low-key Kiwi, now 35, is by far the winningest driver of the current contingent, with 34 victories. Dixon also won four races in the Champ Car series before joining the IndyCar championship.
IndyCar is the world’s second-most important single-seater series, second only to Formula One – and indeed it includes some ex-F1 drivers, such as Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished second to Dixon this year on tie-break. Montoya, who has been racing Nascar in recent seasons, scored the same number of points as Dixon but the Kiwi won the title because he had won more races – four to three.
"We knew at the start of the weekend the title was still a chance, and that's what we were hoping for," Dixon said, his Kiwi accent still clear after all his years in America.
Though clearly elated, his reaction was also restrained – he is not given to great displays of public emotion, and the death a week earlier of his friend Justin Wilson was weighing on his mind.
"We were such a long shot to win it, and we won it on countback. I can't believe it. This is fantastic. I don't know what to say. Thoughts and prayers first to Justin Wilson's family.”
Fellow Indycar driver Wilson had died after being hit by a piece of flying debris at the Pocono circuit, a tragedy which is leading to calls for increased cockpit safety for single-seaters.
Dixon’s team owner, Chip Ganassi, saluted his driver: “I think he’s arguably the driver of our generation, the IndyCar driver of our generation for sure. I think his stats speak for themselves.”
Former team-mate and friend Dario Franchitti, also a multiple Indycar champion, was equally warm in his praise: “You think about the names ahead of him now on the all-time winners list,” Franchitti said, “and Mount Rushmore is pretty soon going to have a tinge of Kiwi on that thing if he keeps chipping away.
“He’s one of the funniest, coolest guys you’ll ever meet, but he’ll share that with his friends, in private with his teammates, and that I think counts against him [in terms of public image]. But he’s such a hell of a race car driver. He’s got a lovely family, a load of money in the bank. Doesn’t change him. Doesn’t change his motivation, and a better human being you won’t meet.”
Only AJ Foyt has more American championships, with seven, but he operated in an earlier era when it was almost entirely an American affair, whereas now IndyCars includes many European and Latin American drivers while a lot of Americans prefer to race in the Nascar stock-car championship.
Dixon’s 34 victories in the current IndyCar era, which started in 1996, put him well ahead of Helio Castroneves and Will Power (both 23), Dario Franchitti (21) and Sam Hornish Jr (19).
Dixon went into that final race knowing the odds were stacked right against him. To take the title he had to win the race, gain the extra points for leading the most laps, and have points leader Montoya finish no higher than sixth. He achieved that, while things went terribly wrong for the experienced Colombian in a dramatic end to the season.
Montoya lost time in the pits with repairs after contact with, of all people, his team-mate Will Power (yes, that’s his real name). Power had stayed out wide going into a corner and Montoya assumed he was opening the door for him to overtake, but Power came back onto the racing line and clipped Montoya’s nose.
One of Dixon’s strengths is his remarkable consistency. For the 10th straight year, 2015 saw him finish in the top four of the championship. And while many drivers hop from team to team, Dixon has scored all 34 of his IndyCar victories with the same team, Ganassi.
“A lot of these people at Ganassi are my best friends,” Dixon said. “They feel like family. I’ve been with them longer than I’ve been with my wife. It’s funny how things work out. Every year that’s a contract year, Chip is like, ‘Hey, so do you want to do it again?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, man. Cool.’ That’s the whole conversation.”
Another of Dixon’s strengths is his great ability to conserve fuel while racing very fast, which can enable him to have fewer fuel stops, or at least quicker ones.
Dixon is married to Emma Davies, a runner who represented Wales at the Commonwealth Games. They live in Indianapolis with their two children, and also have homes at Lake Geist (also in the Indiana), London and Mt Maunganui. One American source put his annual income at around $US12 million, made up of his basic salary, his share of the prize money, and his endorsements.
Scott Dixon has certainly come a long way since he was a chubby-cheeked youngster rolling his Nissan Sentra at Pukekohe – and famously stumbling out with a pillow tied to his back so that he could reach the pedals. He had been allowed to race when only 13 thanks to his success in kart racing.
Supported by his parents Ron and Glenys, young Dixon made unstoppable progress once he entered single-seater racing, winning New Zealand championships in Formula Vee and Formula Ford and then the Australian Formula Holden championship. His move to the US was financed by a group of enthusiasts, and Dixon repaid all their investment once he started making good money there.
But don’t forget…
Meanwhile other New Zealand drivers have also claimed significant victories.
Brendon Hartley from Palmerston North scored his first win in the World Endurance Championship, driving a factory Porsche 919 Hybrid with Timo Bernhard and former F1 driver Mark Webber in the six-hour race at the Nurburgring. The same team had finished second in the Le Mans 24-hour race earlier this year and the victory was especially important for the German manufacturer because it came on home ground.
Their car was slowed early on when a damaged nose affected the aerodynamics but after the nose was replaced they moved to the front as the second Porsche team suffered stop-and-go penalties for excessive fuel use after a sensor failed. Audis were third and fourth, and Toyotas fifth and sixth.
Mitch Evans won the GP2 sprint race at Monza, where his category was a support at the Italian Grand Prix, after scoring third in the earlier long race despite having to start from back on the grid because of a minor technical infringement in qualifying.
The young Aucklander was second behind French driver Charles Pic on the last lap and a brave dive into a chicane gained him the victory. “He [Pic] was very quick, I’ve got to take my hat off to him, and he was driving really well but I just divebombed it out of nowhere, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to pull it up!” Evans said. “But I managed to do so, which was crazy.”
Another Kiwi, Richie Stanaway from Tauranga, came fourth in both races. Evans is fifth in the championship, and Stanaway 13th.
Tom Blomqvist was raised in Auckland and has dual British and New Zealand citizenship; his father is former world rally champion Stig Blomqvist, and he clearly inherited some speed genes.
After success in European single-seater categories like Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 3 he was recruited into the BMW team for the DTM (German Touring Car Championship). His breakthrough first victory in this high-tech series came at Oschersleben and it was a convincing one, nearly eight seconds ahead of a very strong field.