Scott Dixon has confirmed the widely-held belief that winning this year's IndyCar Series title would mean more than his previous success, in 2003, following the unification of open-wheel racing in the United States.

Despite appearing to be the dominant force in this year's series, with a record-equalling six wins and a new mark for laps led in one season, Dixon admitted that his task had been made all the harder by the influx of talent from the now-defunct Champ Car World Series, which nearly doubled the size of the field and provided some of the campaign's first-time winners.

"You know, it means a lot more," the Kiwi confirmed, "I think this year is much tougher. The 2003 championship was a tough one to win, but I've always said that we didn't really know what we had won then. It was the rookie season for me in the IRL, and for the team at that point as well. Going into the last race with five guys that could mathematically could win it, that we came out on top was definitely staggering. We'd definitely jumped pretty deep into that hole, and I still, to this day, wasn't really sure what we had won.

"I think after '04 and '05, it makes you cherish things a lot more, definitely race wins as a whole, but a championship much more. And knowing the guys who have been with Team Ganassi now for about seven years - and a lot of those guys have been with me the whole time - knowing what they go through, knowing what work they put into the cars, it does mean a ton more than the first year.

"I think to accomplish the disciplines that we have now - with short ovals, medium-sized tracks, superspeedways, street courses, road courses - you'll definitely get a true champion out of that. For us to be the first to win it on that kind of level I think is pretty special.

"In fact, the whole year has been amazing, an unforgettable year. I think any year where you win the 500 is going to be like that but, when you top it off with a championship, I still can't believe it..... Getting married, winning a 500, winning a championship in one year, not too many people can say they've done that."

Dixon held first place in the 2008 standings for all but three races, only falling to second after a 22nd-place finish at St Petersburg, and then rebounding to top spot with his win at Indianapolis. He averaged 38 points per race - just shy of the 40 points awarded for finishing second - but still had to fight off a late challenge from Helio Castroneves at the final round.

The Penske driver was 78 points adrift heading in to the final three races, but had slashed the gap to just 30 ahead of the Chicagoland denouement - something that Dixon admitted should never have been allowed to happen.

"I think, unfortunately, we set our minds on having it tied up a long time before now, and I think that's what ran us into a bit of trouble," he conceded, "That was definitely the toughest two weeks I've had. Even today, you know, Team Penske and Helio wouldn't let it go. They were pushing to make sure they got the most laps led, and you've got to take your hat off to them for doing all they needed to do.

"In the middle there, we were a bit worried. There were some people we were racing that we didn't need to be, and I think that's why we sort of slipped back. After that [lap 143] restart, we just needed to make sure we got back up there."

Dixon's success marked the fourth consecutive season where the winner of the Indianapolis 500 has gone on to win the championship, the Kiwi joining Dan Wheldon, Sam Hornish Jr and Dario Franchitti in achieving the feat in the modern era. Despite leading the five laps he needed to surpass Tony Kanaan's record haul for a season - and establishing a new mark at 899 - the Kiwi was unable to add the seventh victory he required to break a tie with Ganassi team-mate Dan Wheldon for most success in a single campaign.

Not that that fact was entirely clear as the chequered flag waved. Although initial eye-witness opinions suggested that Castroneves had edged the verdict, the computers gave the win to Dixon - only for a review of video footage and the official photo-finish camera to confirm that it had been the Brazilian who got his nose across the line first. Just 0.0033secs separated the title protagonists at the flag, putting the race second in the all-time list for close finishes.

"We didn't win it?" Dixon joked in the post-race press conference, "I pointed up to the pylon thing and said we won. What are they talking about?

"You know, that definitely would have topped off the day, a record-breaking seventh win like that would have been fantastic. It was the craziest Victory Circle I've been involved in - you see your car get rolled into position, you get out like you won the race, then they roll it out and say you haven't won it. That was tough to deal with.
I'm disappointed we didn't win - I said that to Chip [Ganassi] after the race. Man, we should have won that.

"But I think, in the back of my mind, we all knew we'd won the championship, and that was the main goal. We definitely wanted to win the race, and we fought very closely with Helio on those last few laps. He was definitely giving us the squeeze a little bit on the bottom there, and they sort of came through with the run."

If 2007 champion Dario Franchitti was apologising to the rest of the field for riling his future team-mate by stealing last year's crown on the final corner, he probably needn't have, for Dixon appears equally intent on repeating in 2008 even with a second title to his name.

"To be honest, next year's going to be harder than this," he claimed, "So, while I'm definitely extremely happy with winning the first unified title, even though guys probably aren't up to their optimum speed yet, I'm looking forward to next season.

"I said to Chip that that's number two and we've got many more to come. As a team, I think that's big - it definitely is for our team as a whole for next year with Dario [coming on board]. Having the last two 500 champions and the last two series champions, it's going to be a strong package, and I'm looking forward to it. I know he's probably got a far different driving style then me, so I'm going to be interested in trying to learn a few tricks off that, but I think this team is definitely going to be a tough one to beat in the next few years."


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