Daytona and Indianapolis Champion Now Seeks Sebring SuccessReigning IndyCar champion, Scott Dixon, has already won two of North America’s greatest races: the Indianapolis 500 in 2008 and 24 Hours of Daytona in 2006. Now the 28-year-old New Zealander is targeting victory in the annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
On Saturday 21 March, Dixon (photographed right during pre-race testing at Sebring) joins fellow drivers Gil de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud in the new no.66 XM Radio de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a contesting this year’s running of the annual day-night classic in Florida.
Although the IndyCar series doesn’t visit Sebring, the circuit must have some good memories for you? After all it was following an impressive test at Sebring in 1999 that you were rewarded with your first Indy Lights drive and the rest, as they say, is history.
“For me that was definitely a life-changer. My test there opened the door to Indy Lights and thus, thereafter, to what I’ve achieved in both Champ Cars and IndyCars. So, yes, Sebring is pretty special to me.”
The defence of your IndyCar crown with Target Chip Ganassi is your main commitment in 2009, so what attracts you to a one-off sportscar drive for de Ferran Motorsports?
“I love longer races; they’re a real team effort and a lot of fun. As the pressure is shared out across three drivers and the team over a long distance, it’s quite a relaxing way to race when compared to the shorter sprint races I’m used to. On top of that, there are lots of cars on the track so you are continually passing people, especially when you are in a prototype. The technology also is now a big plus – top cars like the Acura are really advanced machines.”
Mileage in the car must be a good way to prepare for the forthcoming Indy Car season, too?
“Apart from a short IndyCar test in December, I would have been out of a car for more than four months over the winter so, yes, it’s fantastic to get the seat time at Daytona and Sebring as well as doing all the testing. More so as the Acura is such a cool car.”
How does the new LMP1 Acura ARX-02a compare to your regular IndyCar?
“It’s different. Right now the Acura remains a work in progress and we’re not yet driving it to 100 per cent. We’ve come a long way, though, and already it has a lot more downforce and grip than the IndyCar; as a result the cornering speeds are far higher.”
You drove the LMP2 Acura last year at Road Atlanta, how much more will you enjoy racing the new LMP1 Acura ARX-02a?
“It’s nice to be running in a class that is obviously at the very top level. Certainly I always want to win races, not to win classes – so that’s a big change. To be on a world stage trying to beat some of the big teams that have been around for a long time is also a huge challenge… but that makes it all the more exciting and we’re up for it!”
You say the Acura remains ‘work in progress’ but how has the pre-race testing program gone?
“I can’t believe how far the program has come in such a short time. As with any new car, the team has had some blues and I wasn’t at the first test. But, from the first time I got into the car, I’ve been able to complete each of my stints. Ideally, however, we’d like a couple more months, more so as we are going into what’s probably the toughest of all the races. Sebring is such a physical track and it really beats up on a car.”
Despite the size of the technical challenge and the presence of both Audi and Peugeot with their well-proven turbo-diesel prototypes, what are your hopes for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring?
“I only do races to win them and I know both the team and Acura are the same – we are all going to push as hard as possible. That said, we are going into the unknown, not least as we don’t really know just how fast the Audis and Peugeots will be following the rule changes aimed at slowing down the diesels. That’s why the first couple of practice days next week are going to be big defining points. The Acura, though, clearly has good speed and we are out to win.”
You’ve won the Indianapolis 500 plus the 24 Hours of Daytona, victory in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring would be another big tick on your CV wouldn’t it?
“Absolutely. It’s another reason why I want to do these races. I’ve now won a championship, the 500 and a 24-hour race – I’d definitely like to add the Twelve Hours of Sebring to those. It’s a hugely prestigious event not only in America but also right around the world.”