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Scott Dixon famously doesn't show his emotions all that often, but on Sunday afternoon he was looking mighty pleased with himself and more than a little relieved as he stood on the top step of the podium for the second time this season, after the conclusion of the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway.
"All in all, it's fantastic. It's a huge weekend for us," he said. "This is big for our team, we've had a pretty rats year so far but strategy was perfect. It was a little mixed up, but so happy."
Dixon hadn't been feeling well coming into the event, but that certainly hadn't shown during the race in which the 34-year-old from New Zealand and his entire Chip Ganassi Racing team didn't put a foot wrong all afternoon.
"I've been a little under the weather but, as you said some people actually do better when they are not feeling so well," he laughed. "I'm just so happy, just so happy to end on this note and thanks obviously to all the fans out here this weekend. It's a big race for us in wine country and love coming here."
Dixon started the race in third position behind Will Power and Josef Newgarden and kept himself out of trouble until an opportunity presented itself on pit lane under a caution for Dale Coyne Racing's Carlos Huertas stopping out on track on lap 30. Thanks to lightning fast work by the Ganassi pit crew, Dixon was able to get out ahead of Power for the restart.
"I think the team did a fantastic job strategy-wise," he said. "The crew guys in the pits, to jump Power, Penske are good in the pit stops, to get that definitely helped the race and the way it played out.
"It was really tough. There were so many strategies, broad ones, ones that were very close, a couple laps here or there," he pointed out, as the race eventually boiled down to who could make it to the finish at a decent pace without running out of fuel in the process.
"First of all, the #10 car [Tony Kanaan] I thought was going to be able to make it on distance, and the #15 [Graham Rahal] as well. To see them pit, and obviously the race was between myself, Hunter-Reay and the #20 car with Conway.
"By the time we caught Conway, I was sort of waiting to find a spot," he continued. "He was very good through turn six, the carrousel, which was going to make it very difficult into seven. Just basically started following him trying to figure out where he was leaving himself vulnerable. Turn one, it's a bit tough to pass there. You can block easy. I think I caught him by surprise there, just the momentum we had out of the last corner.
"Mike, he's a very talented driver, a great friend. He's had some great victories this year. it was nice for us to get one on top of him there," Power added. "All in all, it's fantastic. It's a huge weekend for us."
Things certainly seem to be looking up for Dixon and the Ganassi team. The four-car squad hadn't won a race all year until Dixon finally found the keys to victory lane at Mid-Ohio earlier this month. Breaking the drought had been a huge relief to driver and team alike, and now a second win of the year at Sonoma serves as confirmation that they are finally pulling themselves out of their slump and are on course to be much stronger in 2015.
"This year we started very much on the back foot - we had a lot of changes with engine manufacturer, teammates, three-car back to a four-car team," Dixon pointed out. "For me personally, it's probably been one of the worst years I've ever had. '04 and '05 were stand-out years, but [this year] we had a deficiency we couldn't compete as well as we needed to. Now we have the right pieces, but we just haven't done a good job with them at the start of the year."
This weekend's victory was Dixon's 35th in the Verizon IndyCar Series, more than any other active driver in the championship. It puts Dixon into fifth place in the all-time wins list alongside racing legend Bobby Unser.
"It's something that I think I'll reflect on probably when I've retired," said Dixon. "I think stats are something you look back on when you are maybe leaving the car. As I've said, hopefully you're happy with them. To me it's very eye-opening, pretty crazy to think that we're on the short list last year with Unser, Andretti and Foyt ahead of us.
"But a lot of credit goes to the team I've been with," he pointed out. "I've been with Ganassi for 13 years. To get all those victories, all but one of them have been with that team. With the longevity that I've had, it's going to amount to hopefully something."
Unfortunately it won't amount to a fourth title, not this year at least: next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana the reigning 2013 IndyCar champion will be handing over the crown to someone else - most likely Will Power. While Dixon is still mathematically in the running for the championship at this point, that small loophole ends the minute that Power goes out on track for practice on Friday morning.
"I think I'm still looking for the meteorite to take out the #12 car!" Dixon laughed. "I know third place [in the championship] is a real position that we can get to with 100 points on the table, if we can do well.
"I think what really hurt us this year is myself crashing at Indy," he suggested. "That took a lot of points out when you have these double-point weekends. Yeah, from what I imagine, it's a huge longshot. Right now I think our objective is to get to third place in the championship."
Also nominally still just about in the running for the title is Dixon's predecessor as IndyCar champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished in second place at Sonoma on Sunday.
"It's nice to have the championship on the line going into the last race," he acknowledged. "You can't help but think, our team, to think how many missed opportunities there were. For one reason or another 25 per cent of the time we had mechanicals, weird things happening to the car, stuff this team has never seen. It's been one of those seasons.
"We've had three race wins and promising pace, but haven't been able to put it all together," he added. "That happens in racing sometimes. I made my fair share of mistakes. We're going to the final race with the championship on the line. Definitely looking forward to the next week in Southern California.
"When you have the championship on the line, though, we needed Will to have two really bad weekends. Well, he had one and we needed to win today."
Hunter-Reay conceded that he hadn't been in a position to make any realistic attack on Dixon for the race win after the pair had got around Mike Conway with three laps remaining.
"That last set of tires on there, for some reason we missed the pressures on them," he said. "They went high. I'm not sure what happened but just had an imbalance and had nothing for Scott. I was able to keep his pace. We passed the cars we needed to, got through there and with one lap we kind of ran out of steam. Unfortunately, second, like you said, is not what we needed but, you know, it's a pretty good day. It's nice for sure."
And it was certainly better than the way that the day had started for him, with an early morning alarm call courtesy of a 6.0-magnitude earthquake in northern California that was very distinctly felt by all at the Raceway, even though fortunately no damage was done to the facility itself.
"We noticed it!" said Hunter-Reay, who like third-place man Simon Pagenaud was staying nearby. "We were both here in the motorhomes. I went through plenty of hurricanes [but] you know when they're coming. You can watch the news for days, you can prepare. This was pretty wild.
"Being in the bus, you know, it is nicer to have suspension while you're in an earthquake. At the same time I felt like we were going to tip over. It was violent in there. And we're right on the cliff. In my head I'm thinking, 'Oh, my God, we're going over the cliff now!' It was pretty wild. To experience it in a motorhome, you're missing out if you haven't tried that."
"That was my first earthquake ever, and in a motorhome," added Pagenaud. "Actually I went outside in my underwear and checked how far the cliff was 'cause I thought we were going to tumble down with the bus. But nothing really happened."
Dixon meanwhile had been comparatively unmoved by the seismic events overnight.
"I think I slept through most of it," he said. "We were in Sonoma, at the lodge there in Sonoma. I think I caught the last maybe five or ten seconds of it. I heard a few screams, people talking outside. Just went back to bed, got up at 7am.
"I was in the truck with Hinchcliffe before the race - his hotel was destroyed," he added. "He had to move from his hotel room at 3:30 in the morning and spend the rest of the night sleeping in his car. Penske was in the same situation. I spoke to Will before the race, and he thought he was dying!"
Perhaps it's coming from New Zealand, a land of earthquakes and even volcanoes, that allows Dixon to remain unruffled by dramatic events both on and off the track.
"I think, yes, in New Zealand obviously, wherever everybody comes from, they're a little different, the people you grow up with, just the way you live is a little bit different," he agreed.
"I think for me the toughest part especially of our championship year, coming down to the last two or three races, if you're in the championship fight," he added. "I think those are the times when you just got to do your job. It's just another race. You got to try and do what you did at the other races when you won."
Sonoma race report
| Race results
| Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings