Scott Dixon believes New Zealand compatriot Scott McLaughlin did an excellent job in his debut IndyCar race given the limited preparation time the three-time Supercars champion had over the weekend at St. Petersburg.
McLaughlin crashed out on Lap 47 when he was tipped into a spin after contact with Marco Andretti.
Facing the wrong direction, an unsighted Rinus Veekay collected the Penske driver and ended atop of his nose cone.
Before the crash, McLaughlin made been running 17th and making steady progress after being last at the end of Lap One. He had also put in a sublime top-ten finish in the weekend’s earlier practice session.
Dixon, meanwhile, secured his sixth career championship. Needing a top-nine finish to take top honours, the Kiwi finished third in a chaotic race punctuated by numerous safety car periods.
Despite their contrasting fates, Dixon insisted people should applaud the efforts of McLaughlin, and his talent should not be underestimated as he continues to rack up more experience.
“I saw him briefly in a media portion of the weekend (but) the weekends are so compressed and none of the teams are really allowed to cross over,” Dixon told Newstalk ZB.
“You only get to see anybody while walking out to the pits, and we weren’t even close on pit lane.
“I spoke to him many times on text messages, and I follow him relentlessly during his Supercars season, as much as Shane van Gisbergen.
“It was a tough order for him to come into the last race when everybody is already up to speed, especially with the restricted time on track.
“But he did a fantastic job in practice, came up well short in the race and qualifying.
“But once he gets a bit of time in, he’ll be a beast, he’s a huge talent. It’s so cool to have another Kiwi on the grid.”
Having become only the second driver in history to conquer six IndyCar titles, Dixon insists the motivation does not stop.
Instead, it grows, and his sights are now firmly set on matching A.J Foyt’s record of seven career championships.
“Winning is a funny thing, and it gets quite addicting actually.
“So, for the team and us, the competition we have in the IndyCar Series is just through the roof, and that keeps you motivated.
“The competition is probably the highest I’ve ever seen it. It’s getting harder to win right now.
“To be one of only two to have won six IndyCar championships is a huge accomplishment for the team and me.
“Seven sounds a lot better than six, as six sounded a lot better than five.
“But it is never easy. The good thing is we have started to win a lot more often than we had in the early days.
“I have never gone back-to-back so that is the goal now.”