Scott Dixon begins his chase for a seventh IndyCar Series title this weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Penske Entertainment/Joe Skibinski)

Dixon Rolls With The Changes

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As Scott Dixon begins his 23rd season in IndyCar racing, the 42-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand has reached legendary status.

Already considered the greatest driver of his generation, Dixon is on a path to become perhaps the greatest IndyCar driver ever by the time he completes his career.

With six NTT IndyCar Series championships, he trails the great A.J. Foyt by one title.

In 2022, Dixon won two races to boost his career victory total to 53, one more than the legendary Mario Andretti for second on the all-time victory list.

Foyt is the leader with 67 wins.

Dixon is young enough that it is conceivable he could win 14 more races, although the competitive IndyCar Series is difficult just to win a race.

But don’t bet against Dixon, who kicks off the season with Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

“You just take them as they come,” Dixon said. “Obviously, it’s a bit of a slow start, but I think for any driver, that’s the part you look forward to the most is actually when you get to drive the car.

“I look forward to obviously kind of that May period and once it kicks off into the summer stretch where it’s pretty flat out, I think is exciting for all of us. Indy is kind of own little thing and a bit of an outlier, and obviously this year, too, with Sebring 12-hour and then maybe Le Mans in the middle of it all, it could be a pretty busy time.”

Dixon is once again the leader of a powerful Chip Ganassi Racing team that also includes last year’s Indianapolis 500 winning driver Marcus Ericsson, the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou and rookie driver Marcus Armstrong, another New Zealander.

Dixon’s livery for the 2023 season. (Penske Entertainment/Chris Owens)

Armstrong will compete on the street and road courses. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato will drive that car on the ovals.

“Strong lineup,” Dixon said. “I think this team always has a really strong lineup, but this year I think obviously welcoming another Kiwi to the team is always great. It’s good to see the young talent coming through and having three of us in the series, been a long time since we’ve had any other than myself, so it’s nice to see that progression.

“Hopefully some more in the near future here that are coming through the pipeline, as well.”

For many years, Dixon was the only driver from New Zealand in the NTT IndyCar Series. Scott McLaughlin, another Kiwi, joined Team Penske in 2021 after a stunningly successful career in Australian Supercars.

Armstrong’s arrival makes three — Kiwis, that is.

“It’s funny to hear some of the stories of him watching me when I was a younger self,” Dixon said of Armstrong. “I think it’s huge for New Zealand. There is a lot of talent down there, and to see some of that coming through, I think even with Earl Bamber on the IMSA side and some possibilities this season of some other guys doing some testing, I think it’s great from that aspect.

“I’m going to enjoy working with him. He’s a young guy, a fun guy, and obviously very talented. Hopefully I can help him if he has any questions or help him along the way if he needs it.”

Dixon has experienced many good times at Chip Ganassi Racing, including the six championship seasons and the 2008 Indianapolis 500 victory.

Since that victory, however, Dixon has been unable to win another Indy 500. He has won five Indianapolis 500 poles, just one short of Rick Mears’ all-time record of six, but has been unable to convert his qualification success into a second Indy 500 win.

Dixon hoists the trophy in Nashville last season. (Al Steinberg Photo)

“I think every year you have your ups and downs,” Dixon said. “I think the biggest thing for me is that you’re still constantly learning. Each weekend there’s something different, which I think is what makes it so much fun and interesting, I think, for anybody that’s involved.”

Dixon will have a new engineer after Michael Cannon has left the team to take over the engineering staff at A.J. Foyt Racing. Longtime engineer Chris Simmons moves back into his role as technical director at Chip Ganassi Racing.

Dixon’s new engineer is Ross Bunnell, who was the engineer for David Malukas during his rookie season at Dale Coyne Racing last year.

“I’m looking forward to working with Ross,” Dixon said. “We tried to hire him actually probably nine or 10 years ago when he first came out of college, but it never worked out.

“I think for the majority of my tenure I probably had just two engineers, and they decided to move on to bigger and better things.

“Consistency is sometimes good, and change is sometimes good. I really loved and enjoyed working with Cannon. I thought he was a tremendous guy and had great insight and did a hell of a job for our team, and obviously he’s moved on to different things now.

“I’m looking forward to starting the season strong with Ross and been really impressed so far with his just way of thinking, his aggressiveness. He’s a pretty young guy, too.

“He’s a young person but with some kind of older concepts and understanding of the sport.”

Sounds a bit like Dixon, who has been able to keep pace with the changes in IndyCar for the past 23 years and remain at the top of his game.