EDMONTON — Scott Dixon returns to the Alberta capital this weekend to defend his 2008 victory at the Rexall Edmonton Indy and, with any luck, regain the points lead from teammate Dario Franchitti in what has become a back-and-forth battle.
“Now is probably a turning point,” said Dixon in a phone interview Wednesday from Indianapolis prior to him flying to Edmonton for Sunday’s race (4 p.m., Versus).
“With Edmonton, Kentucky, Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, the next few races are all going to be very challenging.
“I think we need a little bit of luck to roll our way, especially on the road courses.”
The New Zealander, who celebrated his 29th birthday Wednesday, won the inaugural IndyCar event on the 1.96 mile (3.2 km) airport-road course at the City Centre Airport, edging Helio Castroneves out of pit row and leading the final 30 laps to victory.
The track — with wide corners and bumpy stretches — favours the daring and punishes the hesitant, said the man who drives the blood red No. 9 Dallara Honda, a bulls eye painted on the side, for Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
“Edmonton is actually really funny. It’s almost like a road course, but it has the bumps of a street course. It’s really rough, but it’s super-wide, super fast.”
Franchitti captured the checkered flag in the last event in Toronto on July 12, matching Dixon with three victories apiece this season. With 347 points, the Scottish driver took over top spot in the overall standings, just two ahead points ahead of Dixon.
It was the third consecutive weekend the two Ganassi drivers team swapped the points lead, and the sixth race of the season that one of the two has been on top of the standings.
It’s a bit of deja vu for Dixon, who won the overall championship in 2008 with six victories, but in 2007 was on his way to the crown when he ran out of gas on the last lap of the final race, at Chicagoland. Franchitti, then with Andretti Green Racing, roared past him for the championship.
With seven races to go, Dixon said he isn’t thinking about exorcising demons from two years back.
“I don’t look back on it, but a lot of people do,” he said.
Rather, he said, “I hope this is the time where both Dario and myself can step it up and try and put a bit of a gap between us and (Team Penske rival Ryan Briscoe), because if that guy gets it all going right, he’ll be tough to beat.”
Briscoe sits third, just 13 points back of Franchitti, who returned to open wheel this season after struggling on the NASCAR circuit in 2008.
“Dario had a bit of a rough season last year,” said Dixon, “He’s super-motivated. He wants to prove a point. And motivation can sometimes push you through things.”
Not only has Dixon been dealing with Franchitti, but also with first-time fatherhood (daughter Poppy was born earlier this month), and rumours he may leave Ganassi to team up with friend Gil de Ferran’s expected two-car IndyCar entry in 2010.
Dixon said the rumours are just that — rumours.
“I like Gil as a friend. We go back and forth, but it’s early days on that whole progress of where he’s at and if we can do anything in the future.
“We’re talking probably a long time down the road, but it’s very hard to give up or change from such a successful team.”
Dixon, a pilot, triathlete and a driver who won his first championship at age 13, is also on the verge of IndyCar history.
A win Sunday will be his 20th in IndyCar, surpassing Sam Hornish Jr. for most career wins in the series.
That would be a high-profile accomplishment for a man whose motto is “Fly under the Radar.” Team owner Chip Ganassi, in an email interview, said keeping a low profile, staying patient, is Dixon’s strength.
“He rarely makes mistakes. He always waits for the right opportunity and then rarely misses chances at making mes,” said Ganassi.
“It is certainly not that he doesn’t take risks. It’s just that Scott takes calculated risks. He is a talent like few others.”