Kiwis to the fore at IndyCar finale

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Two New Zealanders are front and centre ahead of the final race of the IndyCar season in Florida.

Scott Dixon

Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Scott Dixon chases his sixth championship on the streets of St Petersburg on Monday morning (NZ time).

The event also marks the IndyCar debut of Scott McLaughlin, who has jetted straight to the US having just wrapped up his third straight Australian Supercars title.

Dixon goes into the 2020 finale with a 32-point lead but that doesn’t mean he’s taking a cautious approach.

“Yes there’s a little more on the line with being caught up in an accident and points and situations like that but that is something that you deal with every race weekend.

“You go to win and that makes it the most simple. When you start to cloud it and make it complicated then it gets complicated.”

There were almost countless scenarios, all also involving how the race went for the only other driver in title contention, two-time and defending champion American Josef Newgarden.

Simplified, though, finishing ninth or better would guarantee Dixon his sixth championship in what many believed was the most competitive series in world motorsport.

Leading New Zealand motorsport commentator Bob McMurray said, while that seemed simple, Dixon would not be complacent.

“The championship is Newgarden’s to win and Scott’s to lose.

“Scott is a very experienced driver so he’ll be obviously taking that on board and, as much as somebody wants to win a race, I think Scott would be quite happy if he came anywhere between first and eighth, as long as Josef Newgarden was behind him in some form or another.

IndyCar driver Scott Dixon (9) drives through turn 2 during practice for the IndyCar Harvest GP Race 1 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Scott Dixon. Photo: Icon Sportswire

“Scott is in a very good position but motor racing is a funny old sport, isn’t it, and things can happen and we’ve seen Scott make mistakes lately, so let’s hope he doesn’t make a mistake.”

Those mistakes had allowed Newgarden to rapidly close the gap by 85 points over the last five races.

But McMurray said Dixon remained very much favourite and, if he did get it done, it would be hard to find any more superlatives.

“He’s already in the echelon of the top winning drivers ever in IndyCar, so he can only get better at that and record more championships or wins. I don’t know what more you could say about Scott.

“I suppose the old word role model comes in [for] people who are thinking about race driving. If you act like Scott does – humility, grace, confidence, friendly and well known as a clean racing driver, and with all the attributes he’s got about protecting the tyres on the car and fuel mileage – I don’t know what other accolade you can bring to him.

“It’s just sad that he wasn’t able to show that skill in Formula One because I think if the chance had come his way more than it did, I think he would have been almost equally as successful in Formula One.”

While that big chance never came, a big chance is on the way for McLaughlin in Monday’s race.

The three-time Supercars champion raced at Bathurst last Sunday and flew out for the US the following morning, leaving less than a week to prepare for his IndyCar debut.

McLaughlin knew he had his work cut out.

“I’ll literally drive the car as fast as I can, within my comfort level, which will be a lot lower than some.

“But I’m fully expecting this will be the toughest challenge of my career.”

Barring major mishap, though, all signs pointed towards the 27-year-old Kiwi moving to IndyCar fulltime in 2021.

Scott McLaughlin

Scott McLaughlin Photo: EDGE

McLaughlin was keeping his cards close, and said three successful test runs in the US earlier this year didn’t necessarily mean any great success in St Petersburg.

“If I finish top 10 I’ll be doing cartwheels.

“It just depends on what goes on. I might have a great experience running last, it’s not gonna change the way I feel or whatever, I’ve got a lot to learn so I’m fully expecting that I could be last.

“When you’re doing one lap by yourself, that’s a lot easier than when you’re put with 23 other drivers heading down to turn one.

“There’s still a lot of things that I haven’t come across that I need to learn and need to understand before I actually make a decision.”

But that decision didn’t seem a difficult one, given he had always been a big IndyCar fan.

Not to mention McLaughlin was also pinching himself at the chance to race alongside Dixon.

“The guy is unbelievable.

“He doesn’t get enough credit in New Zealand, either. New Zealand’s full of rugby and motorsport takes a bit of a backseat.

“To be racing him and still be in his era, that’s pretty cool.”

And the feeling was mutual, with Dixon equally excited to have a compatriot in the series after 19 seasons as IndyCar’s lone Kiwi.

“I think for him it will be an interesting race weekend. It’s definitely stacked against him.

“[But] he’s damn good, I’m super excited for him.

“He’s been crushing it down there, with his pole record and championship situation, and it’s really cool to have another Kiwi in the field.”

Even cooler for Dixon, no doubt, if it came alongside his sixth IndyCar crown.

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