Chip Ganassi Racing’s team atmosphere has been infectious this year, but you do have to wonder if six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon’s openness is costing him another title in 2021.
Dixon is ‘famous’ for his consistency and his ability to extract seemingly unbelievable results out of weekends where he looks condemned to failure. That’s how he’s won his titles – not necessarily having the most poles or wins, but by consistently defying the odds on weekends where things aren’t going his way.
There are many ways he does this and he uses every ounce of his experience to do it; tyre care, fuel saving, understanding strategies, calm and intelligent racing.
Since his last truly world class team-mate Dario Franchitti retired, Dixon has been able to rely on the fact than he has been more consistent and more able to extract these difficult results than those within his own team, and that’s why he’s not been beaten since 2011 in a title fight with a team-mate.
But it looks like that’s set to change.
Alex Palou has been Dixon-like in his IndyCar season and retook the championship lead at Portland last weekend when he won after falling to 16th due to the start incident.
Palou fell behind Dixon during the race but during the key pitstop phase he jumped him and Josef Newgarden by running longer – which was the move that put him in position to win. Going from first to 16th to first in the kind of thing you may expect Dixon to do, only this time Palou did it better.
Palou is a really laidback individual who rarely gets flustered or angry, and has an unquenchable desperation to learn and perfect his craft.
His driving style is much less wayward than some of his other rivals – as I argued earlier in the year, Pato O’Ward’s oversteer style has made him look more impressive but in fact Palou’s more neutral approach is just as skilful and another root of his ability to be so consistent.
The Portland win means Palou has a 25-point lead over O’Ward heading into the last two races with 110 on the table. Dixon is much further back, 49 points to be exact.
Palou thanked Dixon after the Portland race for a key element of his win.
“Sometimes I’m a little bit annoying, but that’s a good thing, right?” said Palou, referring to his hounding of his team-mates and asking them questions often.
“I need to take advantage of the opportunity I have sharing a team with a six-time IndyCar champion, and he’s open with it, so I just take advantage of it.
“I think making the fuel work today, it’s partly because of him.
“I’m being able to learn a lot from him this year. I still learn every session from him, and he’s pushing me this year a lot. It’s a good thing.
“We have good rivalry on track, and I think that makes the team super strong.”
It undoubtedly has made this team strong as it feels like it has two Dixons now, in the sense that Palou has proven he can replicate Dixon’s form. Whether he can do that over 10 years is another story and a hallmark of why Dixon is so revered, but taking this year in isolation, Palou has been consistently better and his Indianapolis qualifying and some sketchy street course results are the only blotches on an epic 2021 resume.
He could genuinely argue he should be another 50 points up the road as well, thanks to being taken out at Gateway and an engine problem at Indianapolis, both of which forced him to retire.
“He’s just an amazing person,” said Dixon of Palou after the race.
“Look at him, he’s always smiling. I always tell him he’s too nice. He’s got to be more of a… what Jenna [Fryer, Associated Press journalist] said, ‘jerk’. I used a different word.
“But no, he’s obviously very adaptive. He’s done a tremendous job in junior categories.
“He’s a bit annoying sometimes when he’s asking a lot of questions [Dixon smiles], but I think that’s a good thing.
“As you can see with just adverse situations like today, he didn’t lose it, and still made it happen when it counted. He’s definitely done a massive job this year, and what him and the #10 car guys have been doing has been very special.
“Yeah, he’s just a nice person, man. Too nice.”
It’s too soon to write Dixon off in the battle against Palou in the future, because he’s been so good for so long that there’s no reason he won’t come back and have the edge next year.
But you have to wonder if Palou is learning too much from the legend, where other team-mates haven’t been good enough to take advantage.
Palou might just turn that into his own dynasty in the future and Dixon might have just created the monster he has to deal with for the rest of his IndyCar career.