For as much success as Scott Dixon has enjoyed at Watkins Glen International, he had never won the pole position at the iconic road course. Until now.
Dixon laid down a track-record lap of 1min 22.5259secs in the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet during the climactic Firestone Fast Six segment of knockout qualifying to capture the Verizon P1 Award.
The 25th pole position of Dixon's IndyCar career will have him starting up front for the 60-lap IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi on the 3.37-mile, eleven-turn permanent road course.
"I've got to thank the whole Target crew, the car rolled off extremely fast," said Dixon, winner of three consecutive Indycar races at Watkins Glen between 2005-07 despite never having qualified better than second in six previous visits. The Verizon IndyCar Series is racing at Watkins Glen for the first time since 2010, replacing the shelved Boston street event.
"We've been at the top of the timesheets, at least a good percentage of them this weekend," said Dixon, currently tied for fourth on the IndyCar victory list with 39 but winless since the second race of the season at Phoenix. "We've had a bit of a rough year, so it is nice to come back here and perform like this."
Dixon led all three practice sessions prior to qualifying and shattered the seven-year old track record held by Ryan Briscoe by 5.6secs. The pole position tied Dixon with Paul Tracy for eleventh on the all-time Indycar chart and delivered Chip Ganassi Racing its 87th series pole.
Will Power qualified second in the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, missing out on the top spot by less than five-hundredths of a second. Power said he could have used the point that the Verizon P1 Award winner earns in his hunt to chase down team-mate and championship leader Simon Pagenaud.
"Unfortunately, on my final lap, starting it, my engine just died in the last corner there," said Power, the winner at Watkins Glen the last time the Verizon IndyCar Series raced there in 2010. "That definitely cost us some time, but starting on the front row is definitely better than where we were."
Sebastien Bourdais qualified a season-best third in the #11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing Chevrolet, saying he ran out of fuel on his final fast lap, which may otherwise have been enough for the pole.
Helio Castroneves, a three-time Watkins Glen pole winner, was fourth in the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, ahead of a pair of Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. Tony Kanaan was fifth in the #10 NTT Data Chevrolet with rookie Max Chilton a career-best sixth in the #8 Gallagher Chevrolet as the bowtie manufacturer swept the top eight qualifying positions.
Points leader Pagenaud qualified seventh, the first time he has missed making the Firestone Fast Six this season.
"We missed the Fast Six by just a little, but that's how competitive the Verizon IndyCar Series is," said the driver of the #22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. "If everything is not practically perfect, then someone else will be a little faster. I like our prospects for the race tomorrow, though. We're in good shape."
Earlier segments of qualifying were highlighted by record laps and drivers failing to advance after earning on-track penalties. Power broke Briscoe's track record in segment one of group one qualifying with a lap of 1m 23.3927secs, but James Hinchcliffe - named earlier this week to the Season 23 competition cast of Dancing with the Stars
- lost his fast lap and didn't advance when he was penalised by race stewards for spinning and causing a local yellow that impeded one of Power's qualifying laps.
Graham Rahal, meanwhile, forfeited his fastest two
laps and failed to advance from segment 1one of group two when race stewards penalised him for qualifying interference. Hinchcliffe will start 13th and Rahal 20th in the 22-car field.
Bourdais broke Power's track record in segment two with a 1m 22.9747secs lap, but the penalties weren't complete. Mikhail Aleshin - Hinchcliffe's Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team-mate and the beneficiary of Hinchcliffe's punishment to advance to segment two - was himself penalised for qualifying interference and had his two fast laps wiped away. Aleshin didn't move on to the Firestone Fast Six, while Power did. Aleshin will start tenth.