WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – He may have been bleary-eyed but Scott Dixon was nonetheless happy today as he discussed his debut performance at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, prior to a Verizon IndyCar Series tire test at Watkins Glen International.
Dixon and several members of the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams contingent jetted across the Atlantic Ocean soon after the French endurance sports car race ended to reach upstate New York in time for the Firestone tire test preceding the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to the iconic road course for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen on Labor Day weekend.
Dixon, the reigning series champion in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, was tired but satisfied after being part of another iconic event: the triumphant return of the Ford GT to Le Mans a half-century after it conquered the twice-around-the-clock event the first time.
The car that Dixon co-drove with Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook finished third in the GTLM Pro class, with the team car piloted by Sebastien Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller winning the division. In fact, Ganassi Ford GTs took four of the first five finishing positions.
Dixon’s first venture to Le Mans also took on national pride since it was a pair of fellow Kiwis – Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon – who drove the Ford GT to victory 50 years ago.
“It was definitely a great experience to go to Le Mans for the first time,” Dixon said today prior to the Watkins Glen test. “I’m very proud to be a part of the story of the 50-year celebration of Ford and obviously close ties being a New Zealander with the first win in 1966 with the two drivers being from New Zealand.
“Ford got their storybook ending, which we were all hoping. Unfortunately, we weren’t in the winning car but third on the podium my first time there is pretty great. The atmosphere there and the passion was definitely an eye opener and one race that I’ll definitely never forget.”
Dixon has accomplished plenty in his 16-year Indy car career, with four season championships, an Indianapolis 500 victory and 35 career wins that ties him for fourth all time. Being a part of the Ganassi team has also afforded the 35-year-old opportunities to venture into sports car racing before. Dixon has been part of two winning teams in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, but even that couldn’t compare to the international event that is Le Mans.
“I felt a little uneasy just having never been there before,” Dixon admitted. “I didn’t get to do the open test or anything like that, so I was definitely a bit of a fish out of water for the first day.
“Between just the sheer size of the track (8.5 miles) – obviously I’ve watched it on TV for many years, but it was fun to be there. It was definitely surreal. I don’t think anything really shocked me, I was just overwhelmed with the experience as a whole and excited to be a part of it.”
Dixon also admitted that the full-out pace of the race was surprising.
“All around it was definitely a tough race,” he said. “Twenty-four hours, we all kind of used to know as endurance races, but now it’s pretty much a 24-hour sprint race. It’s definitely very, very tough; the competition was through the roof.”
In the end, though, the team was able to add another feather in the cap of team owner Chip Ganassi, who has seen his teams win epic events including the Indianapolis 500 (four times), Brickyard 400, Daytona 500, Rolex 24 and now the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“Congratulations obviously to Chip, who keeps adding all these accolades to such a big list right now. He’s definitely one of the few guys who’s won so many of these marquee events.”