Scott Dixon admits he's excited to race alongside Kiwi compatriot Scott McLaughin in the IndyCar season finale, even though he has his sights firmly set on a sixth championship.
On Monday (NZ time), three-time Supercars champion McLaughin will make his IndyCar debut at St Petersburg, Florida, for Penske's US-based team.
The race will give McLaughlin a taste of open-wheel racing, before a widely expected fulltime move to IndyCar in 2021.
While McLaughlin's debut is grabbing the headlines, Dixon is trying to remain focussed on clinching his sixth IndyCar championship.
Dixon holds a 32-point lead over defending champion Joseph Newgarden, and needs to finish ninth or better to secure the title. Even if the pair finish tied in the standings, Dixon would still prevail on countbacks of race wins (four) and runners-up (two).
Newgarden is defending champion at St Petersburg, while Dixon has never won on the Florida street circuit, but has finished second four times (2006-07, 12, 19).
According to IndyCar, 19,872 possible championship finish scenarios exist between the two drivers.
Dixon says he will still head into the race with the mindset of winning.
"You try to keep it the same," he says. "Yes, there is more on the line, but it's something you deal with every race weekend.
"You always go to win and that makes it the most simple. If you cloud it and make it complicated, it gets complicated, so you try to keep it simple."
While he won't be competing for the championship, McLaughlin will be determined to push Dixon and Newgarden to the limit in his debut.
If COVID-19 hadn't dramatically changed global sport, McLaughlin would have made his IndyCar debut back in May. He has raced in simulators, but that's not the same as being inside the car. Back in February, he was third fastest in IndyCar testing.
"He's damn good, I'm super excited for him," says Dixon. "I first met him five years ago in Auckland, and he's been crushing it with his pole and championship records.
"I think it's cool to have another Kiwi in the field and It'll be an interesting race weekend for him.
"It's stacked against him, but as we've seen, he's quick and I'm looking forward to racing with him in the future."
While Dixon heaped praise on McLaughlin, Newgarden was less receptive and predicted the Christchurch-born driver would struggle with little to no time to prepare for the race.
"It's going to be fascinating how he handles this challenge," says Newgarden. "This is going to be an enormous challenge.
"He's a great racer, no matter what car you put him in, but this is a very abnormal St Petersburg weekend.
"He doesn't have a lot of time. Usually, you have three practices and some time to understand things, but he's got to work on the fly.
"He's never driven the car on this street circuit. If he finishes top 10, it's a great weekend - if he finishes top five, it's an amazing weekend, but I don't think he will.
"But maybe he goes and wins the race, it's possible."
If Dixon wins his sixth career championship, he would sit one behind AJ Foyt for the most in IndyCar history.
Join us next Monday for live updates of the IndyCar series finale from 7:30am.