IndyCar series leader Scott Dixon not planning on handing longtime rival parting gift
He is regarded by many as the nicest driver in the field but Scott Dixon won't be handing over the 2017 IndyCar title on sentimental terms.
A four-time championship winner, Kiwi driver Dixon is in the box seat for a fifth title with a narrow lead heading into the latest race of this year's series at Mid-Ohio on Sunday (Monday NZ time).
It is an unfamiliar position for someone used to surging from behind to take the major prize and he has admitted an element of surprise at how well his season has gone after a switch back to Honda power for Chip Ganassi Racing.
While that was the case, the past two races have not gone to plan, with eighth and 10th-place finishes allowing Helio Castroneves to cut the New Zealander's buffer from 34 points to just three with five rounds remaining.
Three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves has been racing in IndyCar since 2001, meaning he was there when Dixon joined the series in 2003, but the Brazilian is yet to win a championship and has come up one short no less than four times.
That did not mean, however, his south Auckland-raised rival would not be doing his utmost to get in the way of a fairytale finish.
"We're in the business of winning, so nothing will be given on a platter," Dixon told Racer Magazine.
"Whether it's his last chance or not, I definitely wouldn't be giving anything up, and I'm sure he feels the same way."
Dixon's desire to rack up a fifth title, which would put him outright second on the all-time list behind the legendary AJ Foyt, is not the only reason for his determination to deny Castroneves and his Team Penske team-mates clipping at the Kiwi's heels.
Although he finds himself at the top of the standings, Dixon also lamented a substantial chunk of points he had left behind across the opening 11 rounds.
He had mixed five podium finishes, including victory at Wisconsin late last month, and two other top fives with a DNF after his spectacular crash at the Indy 500, a ninth in Texas and those disappointing results at the last two events.
"I typically try not to focus on the 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' scenarios, but I can see how our lead might be bigger if some things had gone differently – but I imagine it's the same for every driver," he told Racer Magazine.
"I'm not saying we deserve anything more than what we've gotten, but you can look at Indy and see we had a top-five car before the crash.
"We hurt ourselves on strategy at Long Beach, I just got caught up with Will [Power] at Toronto which didn't help either of us, and there are other races where we left points on the table unnecessarily.
"Points are tight right now, and there aren't many races left, so we can't afford any additional disappointments."
History suggests there is less risk of that this weekend.
Dixon has won five times at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course since 2007 and finished in the top five on three other occasions.
But after almost 15 years in IndyCar, and a 22nd-place finish there last season, the driver who turned 36 last weekend knew all too well that whether that track record turned into more success was another thing altogether.
"It does add pressure just for the sheer fact that you're expected to have a very good weekend," Dixon said to the Mansfield News Journal. "But it's not always the case.
"For me it's not a place that guarantees you anything. Yes it's been a successful place for us in the past, but that doesn't mean anything."