Open Wheel Wednesday · Toni Montgomery · Wednesday August 7, 2013
Charlie Kimball was the latest in a string of new faces to grace the top of the podium in the IZOD IndyCar Series this year. He joins first time winners Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, and James Hinchcliffe to bring the season total of maiden victors to four. There were a total of five first-time winners in the five previous seasons, just to give that fact a little bit of perspective.
Those four join five other drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Mike Conway, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon, to make up the nine different winners in fourteen races. They represent seven different organizations. The bottom line is just about anything can happen, it seems, on any given Sunday in IndyCar.
Yet when we look at the big picture, the season as a whole, there it is, Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing battling it out for the championship. Before fans start groaning, though, even that has a slightly different look than we’ve grown accustomed to. In recent years it’s been Dario Franchitti and Will Power representing those organizations.
In 2013, both drivers are winless so far. Franchitti sits sixth in points, a distant 111 behind the leader. It’s even more dismal for Power. He’s not even in the top 10, sitting 11th, trailing his own teammate by 148 markers.
No, instead this battle is shaping up between Helio Castroneves, who has never won a championship, and Scott Dixon, who has won titles in 2003 and 2008, but is often overshadowed by his flashier teammates.These two are certainly an interesting case.
Our Huston Ladner described Dixon as a “good soldier” in last week’s Round Table column and indeed he is. Dixon is a staple on his team, joining Chip Ganassi racing in CART in mid-2002 before moving to IndyCar in 2003. He won the championship in that first full season. And then he also struggled along with Ganassi, for a number of years, always the constant while a host of drivers came and went as his teammate, among them Tomas Scheckter, Darren Manning, Ryan Briscoe, and Jaques Lazier before the late Dan Wheldon brought some stability to the second seat. In 2008, with the team once again in top form, he won six races, including the Indy 500, en route to his second championship.
After Wheldon’s departure, current teammate Dario Franchitti came on board and it’s been all about the Scot, seemingly, with Franchitti winning two Indy 500s and three championships in his time there. It’s also a little bit about personality, too, though. Many of Dixon’s teammates have been outgoing attention-getters, including the outspoken Franchitti. Dixon, meanwhile, is an iceman. He has a sense of humor and he gets along well with his fellow drivers, but he’s a quiet sort who lets his driving do the majority of his talking. Fans have not always warmed up to Dixie over the years, although at the same time, most don’t really say much in the way of bad things about him either.
Because he was only 20 when he first hit the scene in CART, and because he’s been with Ganassi for so long, perhaps combined with his quiet demeanor, many people think Scott Dixon is much older than he really is. Dixon just turned 33 this July.
Castroneves is, in some ways, the same story, and yet he is the complete polar opposite of Dixon. The affable Brazilian is also a good soldier, if by that we mean a team player who has been with his organization since dirt was new. Castroneves joined Penske Racing in CART in 2000 (that in itself is a sad and kind of eerie story; Greg Moore and Gonzalo Rodriguez were both to drive that car but both were killed before that season began) where he immediately found success, winning three times that first year. He won his first Indy 500 in 2001 when the team made a one-off appearance in the then IRL sanctioned event, and made the move permanently to the IRL with Penske in 2002.
He’s gone on to win the Indy 500 two more times and has 28 wins total, all with Roger Penske. The only hole in the record book for Castroneves remains the championship. He’s been a front-runner nearly every year, finishing second twice, but just hasn’t brought home that one trophy yet.
Unlike Dixon, Castroneves’ personality has rarely been overshadowed by anyone, let alone his teammates. Spiderman, so called because of his fence climbing victory celebrations, has always been the live-wire at Penske, paired over the years with Gil de Ferran, Sam Hornish, Jr. (who always seemed to be somewhat terrified of his boisterous teammate), Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.
They make a good contrasting pair to wage a championship battle and it’s interesting that each driver, while not always seemingly the center of his team’s attention over the years, still has the ability to carry his organization to the top even when his flashier teammate falters.
While a series of fresh faces graces the winner’s circle this year, winning the battles, two long-time veterans, good soldiers both of them, are getting ready to try to win the war. Will it be Castroneves, finally getting that one elusive trophy to make his career complete, or will it be Dixon, who seems to win a championship about every five years and is on target to do so again if he can pull this off?
Connect with Toni!
Contact Toni Montgomery
©2000 - 2008 Toni Montgomery and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!