Dixon, Franchitti debut as teammates Tagliani makes strong impression
1. Dixon, Franchitti debut as teammates: The Nikon Indy 300 was the first opportunity for IndyCar Series champions Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti to race together as teammates. The streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia, were the perfect setting and atmosphere to forge a union that could shake the IndyCar Series -- relaxed in the days leading up to the 60-lap race while developing communication during the three days of on-track activity.
Franchitti, who made his debut in the No. 10 red and white car after a year's absence from the series, learned a few things about Dixon that will help with the transition to the 2009 season. Target Chip Ganassi Racing will be the first team in major auto racing history with drivers who have won both a sanctioning body's driver championship and its marquee event (Indianapolis 500) the previous two seasons.
"Working with Scott the first time, I'm going to write a book, 'Scott Dixon: The Truth' because he comes across as quiet and serious," said Franchitti, the 2007 series title holder. "I know him away from the track and he's a very good laugh. He's really relaxed and it's a good atmosphere on the team. At the same time, everybody's working hard. You don't get success in any series without working hard."
Franchitti also was somewhat relieved that after having driven five other types of race cars in the past year his feel for the Honda-powered Dallara returned quickly.
"First weekend back, it's gone a lot better than I expected," he said. "I knew coming to the team the car would be fine. It wasn't like, 'Oh, my god, is the car going to be quick enough?' It was like, 'OK, am I going to be able to come out of the box this first weekend and be competitive?' I wasn't sure. I didn't really put any expectations on myself, and it was surprising to be in the top three in every session and ended up qualifying fourth.
"It's good to get to know (engineer) Chris (Simmons) and everyone on the team."
Franchitti's decision to return to the IndyCar Series was made in earnest during the race weekend at Belle Isle in early September, and he put in an acclimation day of testing two weeks ago. Dixon was in New Zealand at the time, so they had considerable catching up after arriving on the Gold Coast. The team building began immediately.
"It's going to be a lot of fun to see these two guys as teammates next season," team owner Chip Ganassi said. "I think they'll bring out the best in each other. They are very similar drivers in that they are both, calm, cool and patient, and are equally adept on road courses as they are on ovals. I know we have had some pretty good duos in our cars over the years like (Jimmy) Vasser and (Alex) Zanardi, Vasser and (Juan Pablo) Montoya and Dixon and (Dan) Wheldon, but I think this one has the chance to be real special."
2. Tagliani makes strong impression: Alex Tagliani's performance in his third race in the No. 36 Conquest Racing car (second on a street course) impressed even the veteran open-wheel racing driver.
Tagliani, who registered the best starting position of the season for Conquest Racing (seventh), delivered its best result (fourth) in the Nikon Indy 300 on the 2.795-mile street course. He hopes the results work in his favor as he looks for a full-time ride for 2009.
"I'm very happy with this result for the Conquest team," said Tagliani, who has competed in the event each of the past seven years and led one lap. "Brandon (Fry) and Eric (Zeto) worked so hard on the engineering aspect of the car. They saw potential in Detroit and were very excited with the feedback they received. They were able to take that information and prepare for this race in Australia. I'm pretty sure that the winter will be much sweeter with this good result.
"Coming here and fighting with (Scott) Dixon, the champion of the series, (race winner Ryan) Briscoe with Team Penske, it was a great showing for our team. I think the team finished the season the way we wanted, and now we will continue working over the winter."
Tagliani joined the IndyCar Series team in August at Belle Isle on short notice after Enrique Bernoldi was unable to drive on the twisting street circuit because of an injury suffered during qualifying at Infineon Raceway a week earlier. Team owner Eric Bachelart was pleased with the technical feedback the Canadian immediately provided, which carried over in the interim to the Australian race.
"It was a very difficult season, and since Alex came he really turned things around," Bachelart said. "His drive this weekend has been absolutely fantastic. I've never had somebody with such good feedback as him.
"It's very encouraging for the future, and it's good to enter the off-season with a good result like this."
The 2008 IndyCar Series season and Firestone Indy Lights season have concluded. The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg.