INDIANAPOLIS, March 31, 2004
The American racing world has been gushing over the test performed last Friday at Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet, France by current Indy Racing League IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.
The Kiwi whose parents Ron and Glenys Dixon pretty much birthed him in a race car more than 23 years ago has been offered dual tests by BMW-Williams F1, the squad that has campaigned former Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya since 2001.
Montoya, of course, became the poster boy for moving up from the Champ Car World Series when he won his first Formula One race for the Williams team at Monza, Italy just after the 9-11 tragedies in New York City, Washington DC and rural Pennsylvania that still color our world.
The second CCWS veteran to succeed in the Formula One arena after Jacques Villeneuve entered that fray in 1996 and became champion a year later (with Williams), Montoya will move from BMW-Williams to West Mercedes-McLaren in 2005, a move announced earlier than usual that will affect the F1 "silly season" until his replacement is named.
Dixon is expected to be on the short shopping list of Sir Frank Williams, managing director Patrick Head and Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director. Others include Aussie Mark Webber, making the Antipodes suddenly the hot shopping spot for F1 drivers again.
It should come as no surprise that Scott Dixon is on that short list, coming from a road racing and karting background in his native land and in Australia, where he matured as a driver. Dixon came to the United States in 1999 and competed in the Indy Lights series, winning the title in 2000 with six victories, seven podiums.
Moving on to the Champ Car World Series in 2001 with PacWest Racing (where he won his Indy Lights title), Scott became the youngest driver to win any major series race when he captured the Nazareth checkered flags at age 20 years, 9 months, 14 days. It wasn't the first time Dixon had broken that kind of barrier, having been granted a racing license Down Under at age 13!
When PacWest folded, CART made sure Dixon had a viable home, placing him with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Keeping Dixon behind teammate Bruno Junqueira became a struggle, but Dixon obeyed orders and was rewarded with the opportunity to move to the Indy Racing League with Ganassi for the 2003 season.
Last year Dixon took to the all-oval IndyCar Series like a sledgehammer, telling any and all that he loved the new discipline and really didn't miss road racing that much. After all, his sole CART victory was on the 1-mile Nazareth oval, wasn't it?
Winning the IRL championship with three victories, five MBNA pole positions, 14 races led (a new record) and 748 laps led in 2003, Dixon showed his competitors a red rear wing on most occasions. But when he didn't succeed, specifically at Twin Ring Motegi and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Scott Dixon clearly blew it.
At the first IRL race outside the United States last April, Dixon and rival Tony Kanaan touched, placing both of them in casts (right arm for Scott, left for Tony) and making their Indy starts a question mark after the Japanese race. At Indy, it looked like he had the race in hand after starting fourth on the 33-car grid, yet a silly mistake by Dixon who hit the wall while warming his tires placed the Kiwi 17th not first.
The quiet Dixon didn't say much afterwards, but it was clearly a dumb move. Only two other failures to finish marked the balance of Scott's 2003 campaign, neither due to his malfeasance.
So this year a lot is expected of Scott Dixon in the Indy Racing League and at his two BMW-Williams F1 tests.
In the opening round of IRL competition this year, Dixon made another unforced error at Homestead-Miami Speedway, coming onto the pit entry road a wee bit too hot and spinning into the pit road attenuator, thereby taking himself out of contention for a second straight victory at the South Florida 1.5-mile facility. Dixon redeemed himself in Round Two at 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway with second place result.
And now Scott managed to impress the brass at BMW-Williams during quiz #1 on the Paul Ricard track where the Formula One troops once raced. He only got 59 laps in the FW26 after gearbox problems shut the Kiwi down for much of the morning, getting a feel for the car and lapping 4/10ths of a mile per hour slower than Ralf Schumacher, who mayor may notreturn to the Williams team in 2005.
Dixon was jazzed and why not? As most newcomers are, he was taken aback by the power to weight ratio of the F1 machine, its incredible braking and the stress it put on his neck. "Those cars kind of shocked me," he revealed. "It was unbelievable for the first 20 laps. I felt out of place but slowly got back into it. I had a smile from ear to ear all day," after posting a top time of 1 minute, 11.753 secondsfourth among nine drivers testing that day.
Scott Dixon's reactions were similar to those of Cristiano da Matta, who tested for Toyota during its first year of F1 competition and joined that team after securing his Champ Car title in 2002. "The biggest difference was the braking and the tires," Dixon noted. With Michelin gumballs that are optimized to last about one lap, he had to learn what to expect and how to deal with the changes that occur to a chassis when tires go off.
An aching neck greeted Dixon the morning after his first F1 test, which was clearly intended to help get him familiar with the team and the car. He didn't talk much with the aloof Schumacher, who also drove last Friday. Ganassi has a good working relationship with Williams after furnishing the services of two-time CART champ Alex Zanardi and sending Montoya back to Williams as an Indy 500 and CART champion.
When Scott Dixon returns to Europe for the three-day test at Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on April 7-9, he has the opportunity to impress Sir Frank Williams and the team with his maturity behind the wheel. Dixon is certainly looking forward to this second opportunity to impress BMW-Williams and the balance of F1 teams that intend to test at Barcelona prior to the running of the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
He thinks the second test "should be fun" despite the fact that the Catalunya track is a tougher study than Paul Ricard. "It's going to be a big test," Dixon noted. "Every team will be there."