Originally created 06/30/03

Dixon new man to beat in IRL



RICHMOND, Va. -- Scott Dixon found the consistency he was looking for and is now the man to beat in the Indy Racing League.

The New Zealand native finished an impressive month-long demonstration of how to race open wheel cars at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, winning the rain-shortened SunTrust Indy Challenge, the first wire-to-wire victory in IRL history.

The rain only seemed to speed up the inevitable, starting with 51 laps to go as Dixon was slicing through traffic and easily pulling away from Helio Castroneves.

"We were saving fuel most of the night. Helio seemed pretty strong, but I think we would have been - if he caught us - extremely hard to pass, and I think we would have gone away from him eventually," the former CART series driver said after his second consecutive victory and third in seven races as a first-year competitor in the IRL.

No one else in the series has won more than once, and Dixon also established a series record by extending his streak of laps led to 290 over the last two races.

A month ago, Dixon saw the three-quarter-mile oval for the first time and said he thought it looked like a go-cart track. Then he went out during two days of open testing and put the fastest times on the board in each session. He did the same during practice Friday, won his first pole and then dominated the 206 laps that were run.

"I seem to like the mile circuits and even smaller," he said.

Forget that most in the series call Richmond the toughest track they visit because it is the shortest and the tightest, putting a premium on fitness because 16-second laps provide no chance for a respite from the tensions of traffic and hard racing.

Dixon still trails leader Tony Kanaan by 27 points in the driver's standings, but with nine races remaining, the momentum of success has shifted onto Dixon's shoulders.

Competitors, too, can't help but be impressed by the new guy.

"From Day 1 that he joined the series, you could tell that he had a very good hand," Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran said. "But I think the thing that impressed me the most was that he was very mature and he wasn't putting his nose in the wrong place."

In the IRL, where careless moves often end with cars on tow trucks, trust is key.

The series moves to Kansas Speedway, the type of mile-and-a-half layout that Dixon admits he's less excited about racing on, but one where the target on his back as the emerging man to beat in the IRL is more than just his sponsor's bull's-eye logo.

"I think it's good to have the target, you being the target," he said without a hint of boastfulness. "To always be ahead, I think, is a lot easier than chasing."

Before this season, Dixon's most notable achievement was becoming the youngest driver to win an open wheel race in a major series. He did that at Nazareth Speedway in 2001 at the age of 20 on his way to becoming CART's rookie of the year.

Team owner Chip Ganassi, however, said Dixon's ability to adapt quickly to new tracks helps the team immeasurably, and makes the driver an asset before the green flag.

"That, to me, is a real blessing," Ganassi said. "It just makes things so much easier on the team, and you know, this guy has a lot of wins in front of him."

Notes: Even as a first-year driver in the IRL, Dixon is ineligible for rookie of the year because of his experience in CART. ... Dixon's victory was the fifth in a row for Toyota engines and the sixth in seven races. Points leader Tony Kanaan, who uses a Honda engine, won at Phoenix. ... Two-time defending series champion and defending race champion Sam Hornish Jr.'s fourth-place finish was the best for a Chevrolet-powered car this season. Drivers with Chevy engines have still yet to lead a lap, however.