Dixon chases 7th title as Grosjean, Johnson spice IndyCar campaign

Los Angeles (AFP) –


The 2021 IndyCar season opens Sunday in Alabama with New Zealand's Scott Dixon chasing a seventh title as imports from other championships add intrigue to the US open-wheel series.

Dixon enters the season as favorite for yet another series crown, which would tie him with US racing legend AJ Foyt for the most titles in a major North American open-wheel racing series.

The Chip Ganassi driver's biggest challenge looks to come from Team Penske's Josef Newgarden, winner of the 2019 title who finished just 16 points behind Dixon for the 2020 championship.

Experienced drivers like Australian Will Power and France's Simon Pagenaud could also figure prominently, while Andretti Autosport is hoping to see a return to winning form for Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

But it's newcomers Romain Grosjean and Jimmy Johnson garnering early interest, France's Grosjean making the leap from Formula One after surviving a fiery crash at the Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix last November.

Grosjean announced in February he had signed up with IndyCar's Dale Coyne Racing, where he says he is looking forward to having the kind of competitive equipment he never had in F1.

"I think it's a great series where you've got top drivers, top level, top races," Grosjean said. "You get a chance to pretty much have the same tools as your friends, competitors.

"The last time I got really the chance to have the same tools as the others was 2011 in GP2. I was close to (a) win a few times in Formula One, but I was also in the era with Raikkonen and Vettel who dominated everything."

Grosjean, a 10-time podium finisher in F1, will race in 13 of the 17 races of 2021, skipping the oval superspeedway races including the Indianapolis 500.

The iconic event highlights the calendar, returning to its Memorial Day weekend slot on May 30 after being postponed last year to August, when Dixon held off 2019 winner Takuma Sato of Japan for his second Indy 500 triumph.

US motor racing fans will be eager to see Johnson make the leap from the hugely popular NASCAR stock car racing, where he's a seven-time champion of the elite Cup series.

Johnson says called IndyCar "a totally different world."

Johnson joins Dixon at Chip Ganassi, but like Grosjean he will skip the oval races -- with Brazilian veteran Tony Kanaan getting the ride in those.

"And it's crazy to say at 45, I feel like I'm an absolute rookie starting in the IndyCar series, just because it's so different," he told Yahoo Sports.