With three months to go before he starts the defence of his 2008 IndyCar Series crown, Scott Dixon is trying his best to ensure that as little pressure as possible is placed upon his shoulders.
The Kiwi knows that he should probably have wrapped up last season earlier than the last round at Chicagoland, such was his apparent dominance, but can use Helio Castroneves' dogged pursuit as reason to expect an equally protracted 2009 battle. The Target Chip Ganassi driver takes the middle road when pressed for a prediction, attempting not to appear arrogant while not devaluing confidence in his abilities or those of the #9 crew.
"Winning is tough, but to defend is harder," said Dixon, who won a series record-tying six races in 2008 but only claimed his second IndyCar crown by a scant 17 points, "Last time we tried it, it didn't work out too well, but next year I think the team looks very strong. The development has been good in the off-season - the car is already super-fast - and I have a new team-mate joining me."
Dixon led a record 899 laps and started from the pole six times over the 17-race 2008 season, remaining as points leader after winning the 92nd Indianapolis 500, and only finishing outside the top ten on three occasions despite fields averaging 26 cars. He will be joined by his immediate predecessor as champion, Dario Franchitti, for 2009, as the Scot returns from a brief sojourn in NASCAR with the Ganassi operation.
"I think there's definitely momentum one season over another, though '03 to '04 is probably a bad choice, as there wasn't much carryover then," Dixon reflected, aware that he followed his rookie season championship with tenth place in the 2004 point standings
"Actually, for the first three or four races there was - I led at Homestead in '04 and finished second at Phoenix - but then we went into the Month of May...."
The 28-year old sees the 2007 season, in which he finished runner-up to Franchitti by 13 points in another title battle that wasn't decided until the final lap of the final race, as key in setting up his '08 success. In the five-race closing stretch that season, Dixon won at Infineon and finished second at both Kentucky and the Chicagoland finale, and he again closed strongly last season, finishing first or second in three of the final five events.
"2007 to 2008 was a scenario where momentum definitely carries on," he agreed, "We were very strong in the latter part and carried that right through winning the first race [from pole] at Homestead in '08. I hope we can definitely carry that on."