“Inner-team rivalry is probably the hungriest part of the sport.”
-- Three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon
Personal ambitions and team goals don’t necessarily mix in professional sports. Especially in motorsports, it’s advantageous for the athletes to at least form a co-existence.
“Trying to beat your teammate is the first and foremost part you try to do because you have the same equipment,” said three-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, who is among the six contenders in the championship-deciding GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
When Dan Wheldon joined Chip Ganassi Racing Teams after earning the Verizon IndyCar Series title and his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 2005. Dixon, who had captured the series title in 2003, was entering his fifth season with the team in ’06.
“Dan and I disliked each other immensely when we first teamed up and didn’t even talk to each other,” Dixon said. “It’s competitiveness. To look back and go through the transition, once 2007 hit were good friends and the dynamic changed a lot and we worked a lot better together.
“Dario (Franchitti) was different to Dan as well. Learning the way they approached a race weekend, the way they went through data, the way they set up cars. They were very different but probably the most I learned from drivers I’ve teamed up with. And (Tony Kanaan) there is definitely a different approach with his style of driving.
“It’s always hard to know how you’re going to get on with your teammates. It’s an open book. The best way to help yourself is to look to your teammates. It’s more data, more information. You can be very quick but one corner is your thorn and you could be losing three-tenths (of a second) and it could be one area where you could use the data and adapt your driving. There are so many things to adjust on the car.”
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power also has three teammates, including first-year team member Simon Pagenaud, that play into the dynamic. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves also are title contenders, with Montoya 34 points clear of second-place Graham Rahal in the 85-lap race that carries double base points.
“The teammate is the one that has all the same equipment and information as you,” said Power, who reset the track record in qualifying and will start from the pole. “It’s kind of weird. On one hand you have to be a team player and on the other hand you personally want to win races and beat that guy every time to get ahead.
“It’s tough to be friends with someone you fiercely want to beat. That’s the way it is in racing. In Formula One it’s definitely more cutthroat. At Penske, it’s very much about the team and not the drivers.
“You have to keep that in mind and think of the overall team when it comes down to a last-lap dash when there are one or two teammates ahead of you. What are you going to do? It just makes it more interesting.”
Pagenaud, who moved to Team Penske after three seasons with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, said team owner Roger Penske sets the tone.
“The way Roger and Tim Cindric run the team and the way they want us to be with each other is the key,” he said. “When I signed the deal it was clear that the relationships with the teammates had to be good, and that was in my own best interest. I want to be here for a long time so when we have trouble, it’s ‘I want to come to work tomorrow and have a good time so let’s iron this out.’
“I think we all see the advantage of such a strong team and I get so much out of it. For all of us, it’s been a great experience this year.”