Alongside the champion: A history off the track


First of three parts looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series championship season of Scott Dixon. Today, race engineer Chris Simmons.

In 2014, engineer Chris Simmons was paired with Tony Kanaan for the veteran Indy car driver’s first season with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. For 2015, Todd Malloy worked with Kanaan while Simmons, who had been Dario Franchitti’s longtime engineer, moved to the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet  to work directly with Scott Dixon.

“I’m a long-time admirer, first-time engineer,” Simmons says of the four-time series champion.

But they do have a history together.

“It was my first year engineering Scott in IndyCar but I’ve known him since he came over for Indy Lights,” Simmons continues. “He was teammates with my good friend Tony Renna and he was in Indy Lights just after my brother (Jeff), when I was engineering him.

“I’ve gotten to work with him on the IMSA program at the 24 Hours of Daytona for several years now. I was the assistant engineer on Scott’s car when Eric (Bretzman) first engineered, so I’ve worked with Scott in a different capacity.”

There’s a connection outside the team’s Indianapolis open-wheel racing and sports car headquarters, too.

“Our families are close. My wife is a teacher at the school where his youngest daughter goes. It’s a bit more personal connection than some others have been, and all that helps,” Simmons says. “Anything that can help me translate what the car is doing or what he needs and understand what he’s going through and what is affecting him helps.

“It helps me get to know Scott Dixon a little better and make the car a little more to his liking. He’s very direct in saying what he needs, though you sometimes have to draw out some of the nuances, such as what might be the best way to reduce the understeer or what might be causing what’s going on.”

Simmons relates that every driver is “a little different.”

“Scott has all the information that Dario had, and many people in the paddock would rate Dario as the best to develop a car. It’s not better or worse, just different.”

Dixon won a series-high three races, including the double-points finale that handed him the title on a tiebreak after tying Juan Pablo Montoya on points through 16 contests. He totaled seven top-five finishes and two poles, and earned 20 bonus points (one point for each Verizon P1 Award, one for leading a race lap, two for leading most race laps).

Fifteenth- and 11-place finishes to start the season was five consecutive top 10s, including his first win at Long Beach. Contact at Texas Motor Speedway in early June (season-low 20th place) was his only DNF.

Dixon’s season starts in his championships:

2015: 15th and 11th at St. Petersburg and New Orleans
2013: 5th and 2nd at St. Petersburg and Barber
2008: 1st and 22nd (mechanical) at Homestead and St. Petersburg
2003: 1st and 20th (mechanical) at Homestead and Phoenix

“We weren’t great everywhere this year; we struggled at a couple of tracks and there were a few that got away from us. We’ll be working on those things for next year to get better,” Simmons says. “The key to winning a championship is recognizing it early in the season and getting as many points as you can. I think we did that for the most part though we had a few unforced errors that we’re not used to having as a team.” 

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