Scott Dixon’s manager Stefan Johansson suggests the Kiwi’s ability to maintain a level of honesty with himself was paramount for him to claim a record sixth IndyCar Series crown this year.
Dixon has steered himself towards becoming one of America’s motor racing most dominant figures of the recent era. His six IndyCar titles puts him only one shy of A.J Foyts all-time record and his 50 race wins is third on the overall winning list.
He arrived in the United States to race full-time in 1999 while still in his teens. There, he signed with Johansson Motorsports for an Indy Lights gig after breaking the lap record on his debut test at Sebring.
Johansson, a starter of 79 Formula 1 Grands Prix, has been Dixon’s manager ever since and offers a unique insider’s knowledge into the working mechanisms of the champion driver.
And when asked what makes Dixon such a great driver, Johansson praised the Kiwi’s race-winning mentality.
“Having been close to him for so long, the thing that always impresses me is that he’s got the ability to be honest with himself and recognise whatever area he still might be weak in – in comparative terms – and he just keeps working on it,” Johansson told The Race.
“It seems like every winter he just comes back a bit better than he was the year before, whatever area he has been working on or focusing on and the motivation is incredibly high.
“It’s harder for anyone to keep on winning; every year it gets more challenging than it was the year before, whether it’s a team or a driver.
“Scott is still the fittest driver out there I’d say, and he’s obviously motivated. I think 90% – at high-level sport – is in your head.”
A well-documented story of Dixon’s early career is how he very nearly found himself on the F1 grid after tests with Williams-BMW – a missed step he has no regrets over.
But Johansson believes Dixon’s 50 race wins and 118 podiums in IndyCar are accolades higher than any success accomplished in F1.
“[In IndyCar] there’s so many good cars now, so many good teams and so many good drivers, a bunch of young guys coming in that look very, very strong and promising. Everything just has to be the right on the day,” he said.
“It’s hard to even get into the top 10 if you don’t have a good day without any glitches either in your performance or strategy or tyre wear or whatever it may be.
“It’s tough to piece together a whole weekend, which again you’re coming back to Scott, the fact that he won 50 races in IndyCar – that would equate to 300 wins in F1.
“I am a huge fan of Lewis [Hamilton], and I respect him tremendously, and I think in the bigger picture he’s certainly one of the top three in history of F1. I think he’s been exceptional since the first time he got in the car, so there’s nothing to take away [from him] there.
“But the fact remains that whoever gets the big records is if you end up in a good car that dominates for a period of several years, then obviously your record is going to look incredibly good because essentially you only have one guy to beat. Sometimes maybe two more, but that’s about it.”
Adding to his praise of Dixon’s achievements, Johansson says no one could have ever predicted he would go on to accomplish so much.
However, he suggests he always had an inkling that there was something special with Dixon from the moment the two met.
“I don’t think you can [predict earning 50 wins] with anyone, especially not when they’re young like that, it can go either way,” added Johannson.
“But, from the very first moment, first test down at Sebring, and he was a 17-year-old kid – you could tell right away that he was more than special. He had it.
“It’s a feel thing more than anything else, but you can tell with most drivers that you can just feel that fire that they have that makes them great; the ones who can pull something out of their arse when it’s time to do that.
“With Scott it was definitely already there and you can tell that he had that little bit extra.”