Dixon spoke candidly to Motorsport.com last year about how, despite scoring four wins and his sixth championship, there were several performances that left them either disappointed or bemused. For examples, he cited the car’s performance on black tires on some tracks, and difficulties with the handling of the car, even when it was fast.
Although he believes the issues have been overcome, he says the nature of winter testing means he and the Ganassi-Honda team won’t know for sure how much progress they’ve made until further into the season.
Dixon recalled: “It was kind of weird. I think ’19 we maybe had the best average of the field for qualifying position, and then ’20 was a pretty rough year, especially on road courses for our team as a whole. Street courses were OK, ovals were pretty good… with the exception of Iowa where we had a problem.
“We have some ideas. I think the problem that we’ve faced in recent years is when you do this testing, especially in winter months, the tracks are very cold and the conditions are extremely different to what you get [in the season]. And what at least we’ve found is that the tires are quite sensitive even just to ambient conditions or UV on the track.
“You think you have a process, but we probably won’t understand it until we get into a few races and see if we can rectify it. Personally I think there’s definitely some things I needed to change and apply differently, which I’m pretty cognizant of and have tried to apply to some of our testing thus far, even though we’ve only had two or three days.
“It’ll be a season-long process, I think, trying to get to that point and knowing if we can fix it.”
Asked whether these changes involved a shift in driving style or a change in process – for instance, how to warm the tires on an out-lap – Dixon responded: “I think it’s a bit of both to be honest. The preparation that we do as a team setup-wise, I think, and definitely some driving style things that I think I need to adjust.
“With the teammates it’s been really interesting. A lot of those things take a lot of time to try and analyze. You’re doing a lot of data mining to make sure you can find specific things and then you’ve got to test whether those actually really apply.
“And the addition of Alex [Palou, IndyCar sophomore entering his first season at Ganassi] and his driving style has been quite different. So even that, at some low grip circuits, has been really interesting to kind of focus on what works and what’s different, whether it’s a bit of what Marcus and I do or what Alex does.
“Having teammates is always key to try and understand and try and dig deep into how you can change and better yourself.”
Dixon also added to Graham Rahal’s point yesterday that this is the “golden era” of Indy car racing in terms of driver skills through the NTT IndyCar Series field. Dixon, who scored his first championship in 2003, said: “I think that talent is across not just drivers but teams, as well. I think that’s what’s really changed from the CART days.
“Whether it’s the manufacturer of the chassis was slightly better for a period of races and updates were coming quickly to three of the four engine manufacturers. There was always a prime combination that would kind of dominate a season. Then even in the earlier days of the [current IndyCar Series] you had that with engine manufacturers and things like that.
“I think with the current formula, the equality between the small team and big team, there is no small team anymore, the way the rules play. There’s not much that a big team can out-spend anybody on. It’s just not that factor. So it really comes down to now the people – the people that you get to work with in the process of what you do – and then sometimes a bit of luck.
“I’d say the competition… I’ve never seen it so strong. I think when you look at it from a driver standpoint to a team standpoint and the options that you have, it’s pretty packed.”