When IndyCar team owner Chip Ganassi got his group together recently at a test in Austin, Texas, he asked everyone to list their goals for the upcoming season.
One of the first things Scott Dixon said: Winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“It’s right at the top of the list, man,” Dixon said.
Dixon has won almost everywhere and everything else during his remarkable 17-year IndyCar career. His five series championships trail only racing legend A.J. Foyt in U.S. open-wheel racing history. His 46 victories — most among active drivers and third all-time, behind only Foyt and Mario Andretti — cover 22 different tracks in three different countries. They include giant ovals (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and smaller ones (Homestead-Miami), road courses and street courses and seven of the 15 tracks on this year’s schedule.
Just not St. Petersburg.
“We haven’t been good enough,” Dixon said.
To be fair, he hasn’t usually been that bad at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn course. Dixon has finished second in the Grand Prix four times (including last year) and has placed in the top seven in seven of the past eight years.
But a handful of issues have fed into his 0-for-15 stretch in St. Petersburg:
In 2006, his 16-second lead disappeared after he entered the pits for a late splash of fuel. Afterward, he wondered if the stop was even necessary.
Dixon had a fine car the next year, but he could never get around Helio Castroneves. Crashes knocked him out in 2009-10, and he led a race-high 37 laps in 2012 before Castroneves passed him and pulled away for good.
Dixon struggled with handling in 2014 (thanks in part to an offseason engine manufacturer switch) and seemed happy just to escape with an intact car and a fourth-place finish.
Last year, Dixon said he wasn’t aggressive enough early when eventual winner Josef Newgarden was vulnerable. By the time Dixon started to try to climb back, it was too late.
“I feel like we’ve really stepped up our game these last few years at St. Pete and had really good pace on the car,” Dixon said. “It just shows you how competitive this series is. There’s nothing ever guaranteed.”
Despite his performances here, Dixon still loves the Grand Prix and the area. He has spent plenty of time in St. Petersburg over the years hanging out with the late Dan Wheldon and his family. He likes visiting the parks or swinging by Clearwater Beach.
But he said that racing a marquee event 15 times without a victory bugs him, if only a little bit.
“I don’t expect anything,” Dixon said. “You’ve got to go out there and work for it.”
Maybe this week, that work will finally pay off with a trip to victory circle.
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
When: Gates open Friday and Saturday at 7:45 a.m., Sunday at 8:15 a.m. Each day wraps up around 5:30 p.m.
Where: The track is at 1st Street S. and 5th Avenue S.
Tickets: Grandstand tickets range in price from $155 to $70, and general admission tickets range from $70 to $25 (advance tickets are cheaper; weekend and single-day packages are available). Get tickets here.
More info: Visit gpstpete.com