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Dixon gets Williams chance 26 Mar 2004

Scott Dixon (NZL) IRL driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, United States Grand Prix, Indianapolis, USA, 27 September 2003

Chip Ganassi driver prepares for Formula One debut

All eyes will be on Scott Dixon at Paul Ricard on Friday, as the reigning IRL champion gets his first of two scheduled Formula One tests with the Williams team.

With Juan Pablo Montoya on his way to McLaren in 2005 and with Ralf Schumacher yet to renew his Williams contract, the BMW-powered squad are definitely in the driver market and they have a history of recruiting talent from American series.

“There are a number of people that we are interested in, and Scott Dixon is one of them,” said Williams technical director and part team owner, Patrick Head. “We have at least one place on the team that we have to fill and we have not filled it yet.

“We have talked to a number of people. A number of people who could be available have limiting clauses in their contracts that might mean that they are available, or it might mean that they are not available. It is always useful to know that if people that we might be talking to are not available, where we go from there.”

Dixon, 23, will have two tests with the team, the first taking place on Friday at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Castellet in southern France. This will be a chance for New Zealander Dixon to familiarize himself with a Formula One car. He will then have an intense, three-day test in early April at Barcelona, Spain.

“He is running for a day at Ricard,” Head said, “and it is really for him to do acclimatization so that it will give him a bit of time to think about it before he runs sometime later at Barcelona.

“It is just for an opportunity to have a look at him. He’s a young chap. He’s openly stated that he’d like to be in F1. He was the IRL champion last year. We are interested to have a look at him and let him have a look at F1.”

Dixon’s performances in the high-speed close competition in the IndyCar Series races, where he drives for Montoya’s former employers Target Chip Ganassi Racing, have impressed team boss Sir Frank Williams.

“His record in a short period in IRL, which is very high-speed racing, says we should give him a try,” said Williams. “There is not a lot of opportunity to test championship-winning people from another formula during the season. This (the IRL) is a high-speed formula. Juan Pablo came from a formula similar to that and did well (in Formula One).”

Montoya was racing in the CART series, and winning the Indy 500, in 2000 while
Dixon was showing his talent by winning the Indy Lights championship that year.
It will take a bit of time for Dixon to get out of the “oval” groove of the IndyCar Series and back into a road-racing groove, Montoya said.

“In the last one or two years, he has been doing ovals,” Montoya said, “so it is going to take a little time to get into the rhythm, especially in an F1 car. He’s pretty good. I think he will do all right.

“In the first test, I don’t expect anything from him, but in the second test, he will be a little bit more competitive. It will be a good experience for him.”

If Dixon should eventually switch to Formula One, he would become the latest in a string of drivers to have raced in North America and then come to the Grand Prix scene. He would follow in the footsteps of 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Zanardi, Montoya and Cristiano da Matta, who raced against Dixon in CART and is now in his second season with the Toyota Formula One team.

“The grooved tires and the light weight of a F1 car are the two biggest things that he will have to get used to,” da Matta said of Dixon’s Williams test. “He won the IRL championship, which is a difficult championship. Obviously, it is only ovals, but he is a good road-course driver, as well, if you look at his background from the races he’s done in CART.

“He will have to get a bit better shape physically because he has only been driving on ovals for so long that he might have lost a bit of his neck muscles. But as for his ability, I’m pretty sure that he is not going to have any problems. It is always difficult, but I am sure that he is going to be all right.”

Williams regular Schumacher will run alongside Dixon at Paul Ricard on Friday.