The first driver to be featured who failed to finish the 2001 Rockingham 500.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was the Forsythe trio of Alex Tagliani, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier.
Following the trio was Fernandez Racing’s Shinji Nakano, a lap ahead of the sole remaining Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Memo Gidley.
Behind Gidley was Bettenhausen Racing’s Michel Jourdain Jr, ahead of PacWest Racing’s Mauricio Gugelmin, who finished five laps down and two laps behind Jourdain Jr. The final driver to finish, also five laps down was Gugelmin’s compatriot Max Wilson, who was racing for Arciero-Blair Racing.
Having looked at the drivers who finished the race, I am now going to look at the drivers who did not finish, starting with the driver who retired last with just six laps to go, New Zealander Scott Dixon.
2001 was Scott’s rookie campaign in the CART series and it is fair to say he has gone onto have one of the most successful careers outside of Formula 1 in motorsport history. His achievements have not gone unnoticed as in 2017, he was voted Autosport’s greatest driver never to race in Formula 1, despite having tests with a host of teams throughout the noughties.
Scott started the millennium by winning the prestigious Rookie of the Year honour for PacWest Racing, winning in only his third start in the series, eventually finishing his first season in the sport eighth. Sadly, it was PacWest’s final full season in the sport in which Dixon raced alongside F1 veteran Mauricio Gugelmin, having replaced Mark Blundell in the second seat within the team.
Prior to his time in the CART series, Scott had a hugely impressive junior formula career, turning heads when he was just thirteen, when he was granted special dispensation to race in a saloon car race. At the time in New Zealand the minimum age to compete was fifteen however his stardom began when he rolled his car ending up on his roof. The TV cameras caught him clambering out of the car with a cushion strapped to his back to make sure he could reach the peddles!
In 1994, Scott began his time in single-seaters, contesting the New Zealand Formula Vee championship over the winter of 1994, in which he won at the age of just fourteen! A year later he won the Formula Ford championship taking thirteen wins from fourteen races.
However, money was always a struggle for Scott in his junior days and with funds drying up, he was picked up by businessman Christopher Wingate, who paid for his racing as well as his airfares to and from Australia to compete in the Australia Drivers’ Championship, the premier Australian single seater championship between 1957 and 2014.
He won Rookie of the Year in 1997 driving for Ralt Australia, finishing third overall, only behind future Australian Supercars star Jason Bright and Jason Bargwanna. Money was still an issue however at this stage, Wingate suggested setting up a company in which investors could fund Dixon’s career. The idea was a success with shareholders generating $1 million to ensure Scott did not have to worry about funds.
With the money worries out the way, Scott was able to win the Australia Drivers’ Championship outright in 1998.
It was his last season in Australia as, with the backing of his investors, he moved to America for 1999 to compete in the Indy Lights championship for Johansson Racing, in which Stefan Johansson became Scott’s manger, a position he still holds to this day. Scott’s first season in Indy Lights saw him finish the season fifth overall, although he showed incredible speed all season, breaking the lap record at the Chicago oval.
It was his only season in Johansson’s own team as he joined PacWest Racing for 2000, his second season in Indy Lights. Like championships before he controlled, winning six of the twelve races that year finishing eleven points clear of nearest rival Townsend Bell.
His impressive second season in the Indy Lights championship was enough to see him promoted to the team’s CART entry, replacing Mark Blundell alongside Mauricio Gugelmin.
Dixon was immediately on the pace and led on his debut for thirteen laps, before winning his first CART race two races later at Nazareth. Amazingly it ensured that at the time, he was the youngest ever winner of a CART series race at 20 years, 9 months and 14 days old. Although it was his only win in his debut year, he still impressed throughout, finishing the season eighth and winning the prestigious Rookie of the Year title.
Scott remained with PacWest Racing for the first three races of the 2002 season, however financial troubles hit the team forcing them to close. It resulted in Scott joining Chip Ganassi, for whom he has raced for ever since. Although the second half of his 2002 season was not as strong as his debut, eventually finishing the season thirteenth, he moved with the team over to the IndyCar Series for 2003.
Here Scott excelled alongside new teammate Tomas Scheckter in which Scott won his debut race in the series at Homestead before taking a further two victories that year. Although a tangle with Tony Kanaan at Montegi left him with a shattered hand, he was still able to contest the entire season, eventually winning the championship, 18 points ahead of double CART champion Gil de Ferran.
The season was tainted by sadness however as would be teammate and friend Tony Renna was killed at the end of the season at his first test for Chip Ganassi at Indianapolis.
Scott was not able to defend his title in 2004, by this time the Toyota engine which had powered him to his first title had lost its competitive edge leaving Scott down in tenth in the standings, only finishing on the podium once all season. Despite the disappointment of not being able to defend his crown, Scott did get his first taste of Formula 1, testing for Williams.
Although Scott showed promise, Williams did not appear prepared to offer him a race seat within the team, rather favouring a testing role before the possibility of a full time drive. Have just won his first IndyCar title, understandably this did not sit well with Scott and he chose to remain in IndyCar.
2005 was a similar story for Scott and indeed Chip Ganassi as they again struggled with the Toyota engine however 2006 saw the team’s regeneration, with reigning champion Dan Wheldon joining the team alongside Dixon, now being powered by Honda engines.
Prior to the IndyCar season had even started, the duo, along with Casey Mears, had their first success as teammates, winning the 24 Hours of Daytona.
2006 was a year dominated by Chip Ganassi and Team Penske with the two teams and their respective drivers battling it out for the title all year, Scott eventually finishing fourth only fifteen points behind eventual champion Sam Hornish Jr, who tied on points with Wheldon. Scott did make history in 2006 however as he won the first IRL race in the wet at Watkins Glenn.
2007 was a similar story for Scott as he finished runner up by thirteen points to Dario Franchitti however 2008 saw the New Zealander add to his 2003 title by taking the crown ahead of Penske’s Helio Castroneves. Scott also took his first, and only to date, Indy 500 win, leading the most laps on his way to the flag.
2008 was the start of an amazing run of results for Scott in which he failed to finish outside of the top three in the championship each year all the way up to 2016, when he finished sixth. His title defence in 2009 was a lot more dangerous than his 2004 exploits, finishing second behind teammate Franchitti, who had joined the team after a brief spell in NASCAR. The duo went on a dominant spree for Chip Ganassi, as the rivalry intensified between the two friends. Franchetti won three titles in a row however Scott returned to title winning ways in 2013, taking his third IndyCar title ahead of Castroneves once more.
It was the second season the DW-12 chassis and the final season that he and Franchitti would be teammates, as Dario retired from racing at the end of the season after a sickening crash around the streets of Houston.
Old rival Tony Kanaan became Scott’s teammate for 2014, as Scott again finished the year third before bouncing back to take his fourth IndyCar title in 2015. 2015 also saw Scott win the 24 Hours of Dayton for a second time with Chip Ganassi alongside new teammate Kannan, Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray.
Although Scott was unable to retain his IndyCar title once more in 2016, he did branch out into new areas of motorsport, making his debut for the Chip Ganassi run Ford GT program in the World Endurance Championship, contesting the most prestigious endurance race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for the first time.
He contested the race alongside former IndyCar teammate Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook, finishing twentieth overall and third in class, ensuring he achieved his first podium in the great race.
He continued to race with the same team at Le Mans until 2019, when Ford withdrew their factory support of the program.
As well as his time at Le Mans and Daytona, in which Scott won his class in 2018, he has continued in the IndyCar Championship, taking his fifth title in 2018, winning three times ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
Although Scott was unable to defend his crown once more in 2019, 2020 saw Scott take his sixth IndyCar title, a phenomenal achievement. He is now just one behind legendary AJ Foyt, who sits alone with 7 Premier American Single Seater titles.
Despite the pandemic his season, Scott was still able to add another overall victory at Daytona to his CV winning the race alongside teammates Briscoe, Kamui Kobayashi and Renger van der Zande, although for the first time, this success was not with Chip Ganassi.
2021 sees Scott return to the IndyCar championship once more with Chip Ganassi alongside Marcus Ericsson and new teammates Alex Palou and rather excitingly, seven-time NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson, who will contest the road courses in his debut season in IndyCar. It has been announced that Tony Kanaan will contest the ovals having been resigned by the team.
IndyCar is certainly going from strength to strength with 2021 being one of the biggest grids in recent history. I for one cannot wait to see how Scott fares and to see if he can finally defend his crown successfully.
Pictures: www.indycar.com, www.sports.usatoday.com, www.motorsport.com, www.speedsport-magazine.com, www.detroitnews.com