Contrary to normal practice in American motorsport - where drivers are commonly associated with a particular number no matter which team or car they represent - Indy Racing League champion Scott Dixon will run with the #1 on his target Chip Ganassi entry this season.

Perhaps it is because Dixon is a Kiwi rather than an American, but he obviously hopes the aura of driving the #1 will accompany him at the 16 stops on the 2004 schedule.

The 23-year-old will unveil the new number - he ran the #9 on his Panoz G-Force-Toyota last season - during open testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which starts tomorrow [28 January]. Trepidation or superstition about sporting the #1 won't follow Dixon on the circuit, but will remind him of the hard work put in that resulted in the championship - and what he'll need to do to for an encore.

"It's kind of cool actually to run the #1 car," he says, "You don't have that opportunity often.

"I think you always have a certain amount of pressure just to perform and make sure you do well. Even being with such a good team like Team Target, I kind of like the pressure. It pushes you."

Though some might see Dixon as wearing a large bull's-eye, he's comfortable with his abilities and confident in the team.

"We set a very high standard in how fast we were at every circuit," he continues, "I think as the season progresses you pick up sort of four, five guys that you need to watch and try and beat. So I think it's the same [as last year]. It's not going to be just one person that everybody is going to try and beat. It is going to be a good four, five people that they have to watch out for."

Ganassi teams won four consecutive CART championships between 1996-99, and the #1 was on the car the next season. However, Sam Hornish Jr, who won the championship in 2001 and 2002 for Pennzoil Panther Racing, competed in the #4 car in the seasons following his titles.

"Historically, the #1 has been held out for the champion of the series," Ganassi explains, "It's an instant identifier as to your accomplishments the previous year."

Dixon, who set an IRL IndyCar Series record for most races led in a season with 14, said there's plenty of work for the team before the season opener.

"There are a lot of things going on right now," he revealed, "There are a lot of changes coming after the third race, so you have to plan also for those changes, too."

The changes he talks about include the switch from 3.5-litre engines -used for the first three races of the season - to three-litre units for the 88th Indianapolis 500 and beyond. The engine change was announced in December, and is being brought in in an effort to reduce speeds and ensure safer and more exciting racing. The rpm level will be maintained at its current maximum of 10,300, but the change to the smaller engine should reduce power output by as much as 100 horsepower.

Eighteen cars are expected to test on the reconfigured 1.5-mile Homestead oval this week, and will run with the following allocated numbers:

1. Scott Dixon Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force-Toyota
2. Mark Taylor Menards/Johns Manville Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet
3. Helio Castroneves Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota
4. Tomas Scheckter Pennzoil Panther Racing Dallara-Chevrolet
6. Sam Hornish Jr Marlboro Team Penske Dallara-Toyota
7. Bryan Herta Andretti Green Racing Dallara-Honda
8. Scott Sharp Delphi Kelley Racing Dallara-Toyota
10. Darren Manning Target Chip Ganassi Racing G-Force-Toyota
11. Tony Kanaan Team 7-Eleven AGR Dallara-Honda
12. Tora Takagi Pioneer Mo Nunn Racing Dallara-Toyota
14. AJ Foyt IV Conseco/AJ Foyt Racing Dallara-Toyota Racing
15. Buddy Rice Pioneer/Argent Mortgage Team Rahal G-Force-Honda#
24. Robbie Buhl Team Purex/Aventis/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Dallara-Chevrolet
26. Dan Wheldon Klein Tools/Jim Beam AGR Dallara-Honda
27. Dario Franchitti Archipelago AGR Dallara-Honda
51. Ed Carpenter Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Chevrolet*
52. Alex Barron Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara-Chevrolet
55. Kosuke Matsuura Panasonic ARTA Super Aguri Fernandez Racing G-Force-Honda*

[* denotes rookie; # denotes stand-in driver for injured Kenny Brack]

 

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