In case anyone needed reminding, the pursuit of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship starts and ends with knocking aside six-time and defending champion Scott Dixon.
Dixon symbolically reminded his rivals Friday by bringing his six championship rings to INDYCAR’s Content Day at an Indianapolis hotel. Mind you, Dixon was asked to bring the rings as a prop for photographs, but it had the same effect as if the inspiration had come from within.
“As long as Scott Dixon is here, you’ve got to beat Scott Dixon,” championship contender Alexander Rossi said. “If there is one Scott Dixon or four Scott Dixons, you’ve got to beat Scott Dixon.”
Dixon has won two of the past three season titles, and his stated No. 1 goal isn’t necessarily to win a seventh series championship. It’s to repeat as champion for the first time in his career.
Dixon said – and knows – that winning again won’t be easy as the field continues to get stronger, with Team Penske and his Chip Ganassi Racing adding full-season cars.
“The competitiveness of the field is insane,” Dixon said.
A seventh series crown would tie A.J. Foyt for the sport’s all-time record, and the timing seems right. Lewis Hamilton won his seventh Formula One World Championship last fall, and Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl last month.
“Seven sounds better than six,” Dixon said, smiling.
The talk of this week’s two-day media event was about the depth of the field, which includes former series champions Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, and Tony Kanaan in an ovals-only ride. Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta, Pato O’Ward, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Felix Rosenqvist and more also figure to be in the hunt as the 17-race develops.
Sixteen of the 30 drivers participating in Content Day have won INDYCAR races in their career. Juan Pablo Montoya, who did not attend but will compete in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, adds to the impressive list.
Then there’s newcomers Jimmie Johnson (seven NASCAR Cup titles), Scott McLaughlin (winner of the past three Australian V8 Supercars championships) and nine-year Formula One veteran Romain Grosjean (a former GP2 champion) adding to the mix.
James Hinchcliffe was among those insisting the talent is as deep as it has ever been, and he acknowledged it has been a refrain over the past several years.
“It’s starts to sound like a line, but it’s true,” Hinchcliffe said. “(The newcomers) all have come from different disciplines … and that speaks volumes.
“It’s become a real drivers’ championship and the biggest endorsement we can get.”
Among the other tidbits from Day 2 of Content Day:
- Line of the Day, from Jack Harvey on Meyer Shank Racing: “We want to move away from being the little team that could to the team that did.”
- Line of the Day, No. 2, from Alex Palou: “I’m going to be smarter when I’m finished with NTT’s reads. My mom will be so happy.”
- Scott Dixon on why he hasn’t tried a NASCAR Cup Series car with Chip Ganassi Racing yet. “(Ganassi) said I’d have to pay for it if I crashed it, so (I thought), ‘No, I don’t need it that much.’”
- Marcus Ericsson made a prediction Friday: “I have a feeling I’m going to get my first (INDYCAR) win on an oval,” he said. “So, keep an eye on.” INDYCAR has its first two oval races of the season May 1-2 at Texas Motor Speedway.
- A sign of the times: Alex Palou was live on the social media platform TikTok while being videoed by Tony Kanaan on Twitch.
- Kanaan said he will share a Brazilian stock car with Rubens Barrichello at 10 races this year. Adding in his four INDYCAR races – two at Texas, the “500” and the race at World Wide Technology Raceway – with four races in Tony Stewart’s new Superstar Racing Experience series, Kanaan will have 18 racing events in 2021. “So much for retirement,” he said.
- Palou refused to say what his expectations are for his first season with Chip Ganassi Racing. “I don’t like to have expectations,” he said. “I like to have targets.” And those are? “To win a race and fight for the championship,” he said. “But this year there are like 12 drivers (in that category).” Maybe more, honestly (see above).
- If pineapple is a pizza topping? That’s a hotly debated topic, but Spain’s Alex Palou had no idea it was a thing. “I learned today,” he said.
- Simon Pagenaud predicted that new Team Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin, the three-time Virgin Australia Supercars champion, will win a race in his rookie INDYCAR season. “I guarantee it,” the Frenchman said.
- While getting a mandatory test for COVID-19 Friday morning for all Content Day participants, Pagenaud requested, “Please be gentle. I have a sensitive nose.” That was rebutted by Arrow McLaren SP teammates Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, who quipped: “Don’t worry, we’re OK. We’re not French!”
- Rosenqvist is excited for the Music City Grand Prix on Aug. 8 in Nashville, Tennessee, but you know who is even more excited? Rosenqvist’s alter-ego, Carl, whom Felix admitted will be really excited visit the honky-tonk bars.
- What did Pagenaud do over the offseason? Well, this avid “Law & Order SVU” fan has seen all 20-plus seasons. He also read his first book since high school: “Many Lives, Many Masters.”
- Max Chilton said the hurdles created by the pandemic – challenging logistics and limited testing, among them – made last season more difficult than his rookie year in INDYCAR in 2016.
- There has been a lot of praise heaped on Jimmie Johnson, the INDYCAR newcomer with seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, but none more interesting than Chilton’s take. “He’s got some of the best racecraft that’s ever existed,” the one-Formula One driver said.
- Ed Carpenter celebrated his 40th birthday earlier this week, and his wife, Heather, surprised him with a noteworthy gift: A ski trip to Colorado next week.
- Carpenter was asked what he wished he had when he turned 20. “Patience,” said the father of three. “It comes with parenthood.”
- Talk about being prepared for photo shoots: Graham Rahal packed six driver suits for Content Day. His suitcase was stuffed to the seams.
- Rahal and Jimmie Johnson bonded Thursday in the hallway while discussing the thing they have in common: being #GirlDads – Rahal and his wife, Courtney Force, welcomed their daughter, Harlan, into the world on Nov. 2, 2020. Johnson has two daughters, Genevieve and Lydia.
- The countdown is on: INDYCAR’s season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park is just 44 days away. The 3 p.m. (ET) race will be the first of nine airing on NBC network television this season.
- Barber Motorsports Park has received clearance to host fans for the April 18 event. Those who bought tickets for the 2019 race or the one last year that was canceled due to the pandemic could begin the ticket renewal process Friday. General public ticket sales begin at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 9.
- The season’s second race, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 23-25, will permit 20,000 fans per day.