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.