INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Scott Dixon's newest IndyCar title defense began Tuesday with some endorsements.
Team owner Chip Ganassi tabbed the five-time series champ as someone whose star power will linger for decades. PNC Bank executive vice president Lou Cestello announced his company would continue to sponsor Dixon's car through 2019 after jumping on board last year. And Dixon took one more victory lap at the team's Indianapolis headquarters before getting back to work.
"It never gets old," Ganassi said after handing out nearly 100 championship rings. "Every one is a little bit different, but every one has its roots in this room, and every one of the people here have given the time and effort to make this happen."
It was a rare glimpse into a celebration Ganassi has traditionally kept private.
And on a cold, blustery day, the luncheon served as the perfect turning point as everyone heads to warm, sunny Florida later this week.
Dixon begins this season with more IndyCar wins (44) than anyone other than A.J. Foyt or Mario Andretti and more series championships than anyone but Foyt (seven). But as the 38-year-old New Zealander smiled and shook hands, one achievement that has eluded him was on his mind — back-to-back titles.
"We've come close a couple of times," the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner said. "It's a testament to how good this series is and how good the drivers in this series are. You've got to be fast — and you've got to have a little bit of luck."
As the longest-serving driver in team history begins his 18th season, Dixon certainly has benefited from having fast, consistent cars, great teamwork and plenty of good luck.
Last season was no exception, and on Tuesday he personally thanked those who helped him reach victory lane three times and post 13 top-five finishes last year as he delivered championship No. 12 for Chip Ganassi Racing.
The reward: A shiny, silver ring that one team member already added to his wooden collection box, placed right next to the championship trophy. Ganassi and Cestello designed the rings, which contain the words "IndyCar Series Champion" around a blue background with an IndyCar beneath the PNC logo.
Nobody was more excited than Cestello.
"I've worn this (team jacket) vest every single day this winter," he said. "You know I've done a lot of cool things in life but this is probably the neatest."
Dixon still has one thing on his to-do list — making an encore appearance at the luncheon next March.
"It feels like such a different cycle each time (you win it)," he said. "But we've never gone back-to-back so that's the goal this season."