As the only driver to finish in the top five of both runnings of the Grand Prix of Baltimore, Scott Dixon has been the race's most consistent finisher.
But the New Zealander, who has the most wins (31) in the 17-year history of the Indy Racing League, has loftier aspirations.
"Finishing in the top five is one thing, but winning it is something totally different," Dixon said Thursday morning. "We always try to remember that when we go to races, we go there to win, and that's what we're definitely trying to do this year. Top five is an OK result, but it's not something that you're looking for all the time."
Dixon, 33, finished fifth in the inaugural event after starting 10th. Last September, he was fourth after qualifying third. Those outcomes have Dixon confident about the Sept. 1 race.
"It's a fun track," he said of the 2.04-mile circuit in Baltimore. "It's a track that we generally have really good speed at. The street courses have been very good for us recently, and Baltimore hopefully is no different. Especially tracks that you haven't been able to get on the podium or that top spot on the podium, you want to definitely get there. But yeah, I'd like to think that myself and the team will go into Baltimore with a confident mindset."
Dixon, who has captured IndyCar Series titles in 2003 and 2008, got off to a decent start this year but shifted into another gear in July when he won the Pocono IndyCar 400 and swept the Honda Indy Toronto doubleheader. Those victories propelled him from seventh to second in the points standings; with 422 points, he trails Helio Castroneves by just 31.
A fourth victory would send Dixon past James Hinchcliffe for the most IndyCar Series wins this season. But lurking behind Castroneves and Dixon are reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (388 points) and Marco Andretti (377).
That's why Dixon politely declined to characterize this year's competition as a two-man race between him and Castroneves, who has won once this season.
"I think even from the last weekend [at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio], it's closed up a little," Dixon said. "Hunter-Reay got some points on both Helio and myself. ... So it's achievable. I remember when I won in 2008, I had an 86-point lead with five races to go, and it ended up being five. The swing can happen. Three weeks ago, we were 92 points out, and now we're only 31. It would be nice if it was just us and Helio, but I think Hunter-Reay is definitely going to be strong throughout the year. You never really rely on the IndyCar championship just coming down to two people."
With races in Sonoma, Calif., Baltimore, Houston (a doubleheader) and Fontana, Calif., remaining on the schedule, Dixon has chances to catch Castroneves. He even can afford to bide his time, but that's not how he views the situation.
"If you could make up the points now and build on the lead until the end, that would be the best way you could achieve it," he said. "But every race pays the same amount of points. You have to race them all and see where the chips lie at the end of the year."
Dixon said the Grand Prix of Baltimore circuit is similar to the courses at St. Petersburg, Fla., Toronto and Detroit, but he appreciates the mix of modern architecture and challenging road aspects.
"I think the layout and where it actually is in the city's center is pretty cool," he said. "It's a great little part of the downtown with the new areas and the new hotels and everything like that. The track layout, it's got a good mix of some high street corners, your typical 90-degree lefts and rights that street courses have. It's a very challenging track, and you've got a funny little chicane, which I'm not sure that they're going to keep adding that on the main straight that they have there. I hope at some point, they take that out so that it's just a really long straight, which would be good for passing."
Dixon said there's a strategy to attacking tracks such as Baltimore's, but he also pointed out that the weather and street conditions can upset the best-laid plans. That's why he is focusing on the big picture.
"We've just got to continue to go to racetracks and try to win," Dixon said. "I think if we overanalyze stuff too much and try to make exceptions for certain tracks, then you kind of end up catching your tail. I think we've got to ride it as long as we can. We had a bit of an upset last week at Ohio, where it didn't go our way, but we've got to bounce back and dig deep and try to get some good results for the last five [races]."
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