The IndyCar series will be coming to Belle Isle in two weeks and Scott Dixon will once again be among the favorites to contend for a win during the doubleheader weekend on June 1-3.
But, Dixon and his competitors will have a lot on their minds before heading to Detroit with their focus on the series’ Super Bowl.
Dixon has been busy practicing this week and getting ready for this weekend’s qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which will be held on May 27.
And, Dixon has returned to the site of his horrific accident last year that resulted from Jay Howard hitting the outside wall in Turn 2 and careening down the track where Dixon couldn’t avoid him. It led to his Dixon’s Honda going airborne and then coming down on the inside wall.
Dixon remarkably avoided serious injury from the crash and made his way to Belle Isle with a fractured ankle, where he somehow still got in his car to finish second in Race No. 1 and sixth in Race No. 2.
So, how could he possibly have the courage to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after last year’s accident?
“I think it was definitely a spectacular crash and I was extremely lucky with just where the car hit,” said Dixon, 37, who is now in his 16th season while driving for owner Chip Ganassi.“If it got into the catch fence a little bit more on the inside of the track it could have been a lot worse. I was very lucky to walk away with a fractured ankle.
“I think the crashes that dwell on you a little more are the ones that you’ve caused or if you lost control of the car, but for me in that moment with Jay it was strictly wrong place, wrong time and you can’t do anything about it.
“I know the sport is dangerous, that’s part of it and it says it right on the back of the ticket. I’ve been doing this since I was seven years old. I love doing what I do and I love the sport.”
Dixon regrets being involved in the accident, certainly for the fractured ankle, but more so for the result after starting from the pole, saying if he finished in the top 25 he would have won the series championship with the double points handed out for the Indy 500.
Dixon has 40 IndyCar victories, more than any current driver in the series, and has accomplished a lot with four series championships (2003, 2008, 2013, 2015), winning the 2008 Indy 500 and a race on Belle Isle in 2012.
No, Dixon didn’t win on Belle Isle last year, but his strong finishes pushed aside the pain from his injury.
“It was quite tough, a lot of pain and we had races five weeks in a row, maybe six so it was hard for recovery,” Dixon said. “We were happy when we finished second on the first day and I think we had a chance at winning it the second day had we not had the issue in the pits with getting fuel in the car.
“I think that’s what kicks in gear for me, how to win the next race and that was almost a distraction from the pain and what I was feeling in the car. But, probably the nights and the time out of the car was probably the toughest part because the pain was pretty intense.”
IndyCar has showcased a new car this season and Dixon likes it.
“The car itself and the package itself, the new universal aero kit from IndyCar, obviously it eliminated the competition on the aero side between GM and Honda, but I think the car looks way cooler, it’s better in traffic,” Dixon said.
“We haven’t really had a strong start to the season — last week with the second-place finish (at Indianapolis street course) was our best result. We’ve had good speed, but I haven’t really capitalized, made a few mistakes. We’re sitting fourth in the championship (points), so not too bad, but we definitely need to find our stride and get some wins.”
So, what does Dixon expect at Indy?
“I think what IndyCar tried to do was copy the package as much as possible, and I say copy how it’s achieved, you know the downforce levels and drag levels,” Dixon said. “I think Indianapolis forever has been very good, but the last two or three years have been exceptional racing so they tried to make sure they kept that the same as much as they could. I think race levels of downforce will be very similar to last year.
“Qualifying, it’s a lot harder to trim this car. We used to have a very big spread from race to qualifying, almost 800 or 900 pounds. Let’s say IndyCar makes 200 to 300 so it’s a lot harder to try to trim the car out so you may see a lot of cars running similar packages for qualifying. Still, I expect the race to be as good or better than what we’ve seen in the last two or three years.”
Dixon has accomplished series championships and a win at Indy, but he wants more.
“I think I’ve finished second here (Indy 500) three or four times and that’s the toughest position to finish in this amazing race, but I love IndyCar racing,” Dixon said. “I love the sport and I love the people in it. It’s very exciting and very diverse. It’s probably the most diverse championship in the world with street and road courses, short track ovals and superspeedways. For me, I’ve been very fortunate to be with a successful team throughout my career and hope that continues for many years to come.
“My fight is to try and get multiple (Indy) 500 wins and try and go on and win a fifth or sixth IndyCar championship. The field right now is very tough and extremely competitive.”
It certainly is competitive in the Indy 500. Bloomfield Hills businessman Roger Penske is well known for his drivers winning the Indy 500 16 times, but Michael Andretti’s drivers have won three of the last four years.
And, while Dixon’s focus is on Indy, he admits he enjoys competing on Belle Isle.
“I love the circuit. It’s quite low grip, it’s quite bumpy, has a lot of character,” Dixon said. “It’s got a fantastic layout. It’s really good for racing, so it’s a perfect fit for our team and IndyCar racing.”
CHEVROLET DETROIT GRAND PRIX
When: Friday, June 1 through Sunday, June 3.
Where: Belle Isle.
IndyCar: Dual IndyCar races on June 2 and June 3, 3:30 p.m. each day, 70 laps each.
Friday – TransAm Race 1, 4:35 p.m.
Saturday – TransAm Challenge Race, 8:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 1, 10:05 a.m.
Sunday – TransAm Dash Race, 11:45 a.m.; Super Truck Series Race 2, 2:05 p.m.