Archive for Friday, May 23, 2008

Ganassi Racing teammates forge strong bond

May 23, 2008

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— The personalities of Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon are worlds apart.

Dixon prefers playing the subdued star, while Wheldon embraces his role as the gregarious gentleman.

On the track, however, this seemingly odd couple has given Target Chip Ganassi Racing a perfect 1-2 punch, a combination the world will witness when they start side-by-side on the front row for Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

"Like chalk and cheese," Wheldon said when asked about their differences. "When I first joined the team, Scott didn't say much at all. He's somewhat like introverted. When you get to know him, he's bloody funny."

It took 21â2 seasons to work out the kinks between the New Zealander Dixon and the English-born Wheldon.

Now the two former Indy Racing League points champions are in sync.

Each has reached Victory Lane once since the IRL IndyCar Series season began and each has two other top-five finishes.

What's changed?

"He's definitely come out of his shell since I've been with the team," Wheldon said, drawing laughter. "I think that's a lot of his wife, Emma, too, because he's in a good place with his life right now."

That hasn't always been the case for the 27-year old Dixon.

In 2003, he was the talk of the IRL, a rising star who had earned five poles and led 343 consecutive laps over three races. He finished his rookie year, a 16-race season, with three wins, five seconds and nine top-five finishes, enough to win the series title.

A year later, with expectations rising, Dixon stumbled.

He slipped to 10th in the points. Then came an even more dismal 2005.

His only top-five finish that year came the in the second-to-last race of the season at Watkins Glen, which he won. After the season, Dixon's confidence was waning, teammate Ryan Briscoe was let go and Wheldon became his new teammate after moving from Andretti Green Racing.

"Those two years really grounded me," Dixon said. "You've really got to be thankful, I think, for a lot of the wins that you do get and when you're on a good roll because it doesn't last too long sometimes."

It wasn't until 2007 that the two drivers really began to mesh.

They're so comfortable together now that Dixon didn't even balk when Ganassi let Wheldon try to bump Dixon off the pole - although he did breathe a sigh of relief when Wheldon's four-lap qualifying average of 226.110 mph was too slow to win the pole. Dixon came in at 226.366.

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