Scott Dixon’s final race of the 2016 season was the difference between another notch in a remarkable run of consistency and the first season he could reasonably define as a disappointment since 2006.
The IndyCar Series ended in Sears Point, California, where a first-place finish for Dixon at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma would have vaulted him to No. 2 in the year-end standings.
“We had the ability to finish second or sixth,” Dixon said. “I think we probably finished, like, last.”
Seventeen racers finished in Sonoma, and Dixon was the last to cross the finish line. The result forced him to settle for sixth in the season points race — his first time ending the year outside the top three since 2006 — a year removed from tying the record with his fourth IndyCar Series championship.
Four days before this season gets underway, with the Firestone Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg, Dixon spent on Wednesday at Andersen RacePark in Palmetto, taking part in the Kart 4 Kids Pro-Am Race Charity event to raise money for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Saint Petersburg.
He begins 2017 in transition. His team – Chip Ganassi Racing – is back with Honda after three seasons with Chevrolet. His age – 37 by the end of the season – would make him the second oldest series champion. His next championship, which would be his record-setting fifth, would make him, by one metric, the most successful driver in IndyCar history.
It could also be the start of the end for IndyCar’s all-time winningest driver as he quickly approaches 40.
“For us, it’s a good reset at a good time to shift,” Dixon said.
Dixon isn’t a stranger to the Honda engine. Two of his first three series titles came during the eight years Chip Ganassi spent affiliated with Honda. Driving with a Honda engine in 2009, Dixon won a career-best six races and cruised to the championship with a career-best of 646 points. Four years later in 2013, Dixon won another title with Honda, winning four races and earning 577 points.
Still, three years, one championship and a pair of top-three finishes made leaving Chevy a challenge for the 36-year-old from New Zealand. The engine and body kit are both changing, and the body kit should provide the biggest difference, Dixon said.
“It’s a different vibe and a different beast,” Dixon said, “and it’s kind of interesting because it’s new.”
The new manufacturer figures to help him on superspeedway courses, such as Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It could, however, leave him a bit slow on shorter ovals and street courses, like at the Grand Prix of Saint Petersburg this weekend.
But speed has never been an issue for Dixon, even during his underwhelming 2016 campaign. Were it not for a few technical glitches and strategic mishaps, Dixon may have been a champion yet again — and at least extended his top-three streak.
“To be honest, I think, last year didn’t show nearly as well as our capabilities,” Dixon said. “I think — and I say quite easily — we should have won another 3-4 races.”