WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Scott Dixon has been the man to beat at Watkins Glen International since IndyCar began racing again at the historic road course just over a decade ago. He still is.
Fastest in all three practices, Dixon topped the Fast Six on Saturday with a track-record-smashing time of 1 minute, 22.5259 seconds at 147.008 mph to win the pole for the Grand Prix at The Glen. It was Dixon’s second pole of the season and 25th of his career, tying him with Paul Tracy for 11th all-time, as he eclipsed Ryan Briscoe’s track record by more than five seconds in a penalty-filled affair.
“It was hairy, man,” Dixon said. “There was definitely a lot of chaos during qualifying with people getting pulled back out of the group that they had transferred into.”
Will Power, second in points to Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, will start second, followed by Sebastien Bourdais, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Max Chilton.
Pagenaud failed to make the final six for the first time this season and will start seventh. He leads Power by 28 points with two races left in the season.
A year ago, Dixon captured his fourth IndyCar championship in stunning fashion. He won the season finale at Sonoma to snatch the title from Juan Pablo Montoya, overcoming a daunting 47-point deficit. That he’s really not in the hunt this time — Dixon is sixth in the standings, 132 points behind Pagenaud — isn’t so much fun.
“We had to have a lot of things go our way at Sonoma last year. You don’t often see it transpire like that,” Dixon said. “They (Pagenaud and Power) are a lot closer. Will’s starting five spots ahead of Simon, and Will’s been a lot quicker all weekend. It’s definitely going to go down to the wire. For us, it’s going to feel real strange.”
Other things to know about IndyCar qualifying at Watkins Glen International:
Graham Rahal, the winner last week at Texas, was sitting comfortably inside the top six in the first of three rounds of qualifying but was penalized for impeding Jack Hawksworth’s time and did not advance. He pleaded his case with IndyCar officials on pit road, to no avail.
“I’m very disappointed with the ruling,” said Rahal, who will start 20th. “We obviously have a fast race car, but we’re going to have to put our heads down and try to come from behind. There is a lot of work to be done. We will give it all we can to try to come up with good strategy to help us make our way to the front.”
Russian Mikhail suffered a similar fate. Comfortably in the final six, he was penalized for impeding Montoya and also had his two fastest laps taken away, too, giving Power the break he needed to advance.
“I did all I could in that situation. I knew he was behind me,” Aleshin said. “I moved to the right side and then they give me the penalty. What’s going on? They took two fastest laps, which were identical. I think that’s not very fair, is it?”
James Hinchcliffe also was a victim. He initially advanced but lost his fastest lap because he spun and affected the progress of Power during the first session, allowing Aleshin to go on to the next round.
RED OR BLACK
Teams struggled to find the right balance with both the red and black tires on the newly paved surface at The Glen. The red compound is softer, grippier and usually faster, but on this day the harder compound in the blacks proved the better choice.
Bourdais proved it with his top qualifying result of the season, but fellow Frenchman Pagenaud did not.
“I don’t know what happened,” Pagenaud said. “I’m trying to understand how we can go faster. We just missed it. It happens. We’ve been struggling with speed. It’s a new track and you’ve got to get used to it. There’s a very, very high commitment. I’m pretty happy with where we are now. I think we can go racing.”
Power starts alongside Dixon on the front row, with Pagenaud three rows further back, and starts at Watkins Glen can be disastrous as drivers get aggressive trying to make passes when the green flag waves. Jeff Gordon won the pole here in 2003 for the NASCAR Cup race, was wrecked on the first turn of the race by Greg Biffle, and finished 33rd.
Dixon said he’d remind Power about what’s at stake.
“I’ll definitely remind Will before the race that he’s got a lot more to lose than I have,” Dixon said with a smile. “You know, I think you can see that Will has evolved a lot, I think, as a driver, especially this championship.
“It was funny, we chatted at Road America about the runaway championship that Simon was having, and I was like, ‘You wait, man, it’s going to flip. One of us will be in the chase again to try and hunt him down.”
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