INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon has been on top of his game in nearly every practice, qualifying session and race during the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. With three-straight wins to start the season, Dixon enters the 104th Indianapolis 500 with a 49-point lead over 2019 Indy winner Simon Pagenaud.
Dixon continued his incredible 2020 season in Wednesday’s opening day of practice for the Indy 500. He was the fastest driver in the two-hour session Wednesday morning and finished the day third in speed at 224.047 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Only Andretti Autosport drivers James Hinchcliffe (224.526 mph) and Marco Andretti (224.345) had a more flawless day out the gate than Dixon, a five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.
“It was great to be back on track, especially here at Indy,” Dixon said after completing 61 laps in the split session. “We’ve been for this for a long, long time. For us as a team, there have been a lot of changes during the offseason with personnel and with development. We have a long list of things to check off. We could have used a typical length of practice time and so could a lot of other teams.
“We were just trying to get though the list. I think the car rolled off pretty well. It’s much easier to drive than what we had last year, and that showed. We were going through the steps. We didn’t get as much running at the end of the day. We had to come back to the garage to get something knocked out, and it took longer than we expected.
“All in all, great to be back on track. It was great to see a lot of cars running and mix it back up.”
Dixon’s No. 9 PNC Bank Honda crew has been revamped during the offseason. Michael Cannon was brought over as Dixon’s lead race engineer. Longtime engineer Chris Simmons remains a part of Dixon’s crew, but has taken on the responsibility of Chip Ganassi Racing’s competition director.
The combination of Dixon and Cannon has been extremely productive as Dixon is off to one of the best starts in his career and is just one victory shy of his 50th career INDYCAR win.
“The reason the team has gotten off to a great start is the team is a fantastic team,” Cannon said as he prepared to walk into Gasoline Alley to make a few changes on Dixon’s car midway through the second session. “You step into this, and you are unprepared for how accommodating everyone is. It’s a remarkable group.”
Prior to joining Chip Ganassi Racing, Cannon was Santino Ferrucci’s race engineer at Dale Coyne Racing. That has always been one of INDYCAR’s most efficient teams, as Coyne’s operation is always able to deliver big-time results with a smaller budget.
At Chip Ganassi Racing, Cannon is surrounded by some of the best resources in racing.
“It’s easy to look at it the wrong way, like financial resources,” Cannon said. “The resources are in the people. We have some remarkable, remarkable, very intelligent people there. It’s easy to say dollars and cents, but that is not the strength of this team.
“The strength is the money invested in hiring the right people.”
Mike Hull is the managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing and saw some tremendous value in adding Cannon. It was the ability to bring a fresh new perspective to the operation that is one of the most successful in INDYCAR history.
“On any professional sporting team, it’s resilience is not only the strength of the people but how well they work together and how well they mentor the people that come into the organization,” Hull said. “Michael Cannon is right; it’s a good observation. We’re not the only people in the paddock like that, but we have a good resource.”
Dixon has enjoyed working with his new engineer, and the two have meshed immediately. That was obvious by the way the team dominated the delayed start of the season June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway to begin the string of three straight victories. Another win followed in the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis on July 4 and continued with a win in the first of two races at Road America in the REV Group Grand Prix the following weekend.
“Cannon is different in many ways,” Dixon said. “He’s a lot of fun to work with. He’s a different set of eyes, for sure, and just the process is totally different. For me, it’s a lot of fun. Chris Simmons is still on my stand, and that shows the depth we have on this team.
“It’s interesting coming to a lot of these places for the first time and just trying to attack it a different way. It’s refreshing for one and the combination of him and a lot of people coming from the GT program, the depth this team has, it’s nice to have some added depth to it because we were running pretty thin there on the INDYCAR program.”
Dixon is attempting to win the Indianapolis 500 for only the second time in his career. For Cannon, it would be his first Indy 500 win as an engineer.
“I hope we can do that with Michael,” Hull said. “It’s a testament to everybody that works for us that we are capable of the accomplishment. When somebody is added to the team, it inspires a lot of independent fresh thinking, and that is what we truly enjoy. Any time we move somebody within the team structure to a different job or job description or we add another team or a different kind of racing, we see that.
“To come out fast on Opening Day, it’s a confidence builder for Scott Dixon and his group, no question about that. We have worked really, really hard the last few years at Indianapolis. We are seeking to improve our project with him. The car is really strong. We have something to build on and puts a spring in your step, that’s for sure.”
Engineers look at the world differently, and that is what makes them some of the more unique members of an INDYCAR team. Cannon certainly fits that quirky quality of a race engineer, that can see infinite possibilities to solve finite problems.
Although he was pleased to come out of the first day of practice in such competitive shape, he was able to properly analyze the day.
“Seems OK, but you don’t really know what everybody else is up to,” Cannon said. “Everybody is feeling out this thing.
“The proof is in the pudding, my friend. We’ll see what happens on Race Day. Practice and qualifying is one thing, the race is another thing.
“This is a very treacherous group we are competing against.”