Dixon earns Indy 500 pole

INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon thrilled Indianapolis 500 qualifying fans like they haven’t been in more than two decades, capturing the pole position for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil with the fastest average speed since 1996.

The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and fourth-winningest driver in Indy car history completed four on-the-edge laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval at 232.164 mph. The 10-mile run in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the best speed seen at IMS since Arie Luyendyk set the track record of 236.986 mph in second-day qualifying on May 12, 1996.

“It feels fast,” Dixon said. “Any speed (above) 215 or 220 around this place feels really fast, but I think you just block it all out. You’re constantly just trying to feel how the car is, see where you can place it, see if you can improve the next lap. It’s been so intense this weekend just trying to hold on to the car for the four laps. I think that’s where all the focus has been.

“But I think for the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s cool to see these speeds gradually creeping up. It’s good to see we’ve made a big improvement. I think I did a 227 average last year, so it’s a nice little jump.”

It is Dixon’s third Indy 500 pole position – he won from the front spot in 2008 – and the 26th of his 17-year Indy car career, moving the 36-year-old New Zealander past Paul Tracy and alone into 11th place on the all-time poles list.

The third-fastest driver in first-day qualifying Saturday, Dixon was the seventh of nine to make an attempt in the Fast Nine Shootout under late-afternoon Indiana sunshine today. His first lap of 232.595 mph was also the fastest official lap recorded at IMS since the 1996 Indy 500 race. Luyendyk still holds the single-lap standard, 237.498 mph, also set during his record qualifying run.

Dixon will start on point for the third-fastest field in Indy 500 history, with a 228.400 mph average. Joining him on the front row are Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet and defending Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda.

In the process of taking the top spot, Dixon ended a string of six straight Verizon IndyCar Series race poles won by Team Penske, dating to the 2016 season finale at Sonoma Raceway. It also marked the 88th pole in Indy car history for Chip Ganassi Racing and its fifth at the Indianapolis 500.

Though qualifying points aren’t officially awarded until after the race completion, Dixon has the provisional points lead by 21 over 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud heading into Indy 500 worth double the normal race points.

“Today, we managed to get it done and we’re starting in the right place,” said Dixon, the 40-time Indy car race winner. “The hard part now is to keep it there.”

Carpenter, fastest in first-day qualifying, put together a four-lap run of 231.664 mph to collect his third front-row start in the Indianapolis 500. He was the 2013 and ’14 pole sitter.

“That’s all she had,” Carpenter said. “Would it have been fun to win a third pole? Yes, but at the same time to be in the middle of the front row with two former 500 champions, hopefully I can convert from the front row this time and earn a victory.”

Rossi started 11th as an Indy 500 rookie a year ago, fell back midway and won the 200-lap race on a risky fuel strategy. He qualified third at 231.487 mph to secure a career-best start in a Verizon IndyCar Series race – his previous best was fifth earlier this season at Long Beach – and the first front-row start of his Indy car career.

“You’re always disappointed if you’re not in front, but I think it’s a good effort from the team,” Rossi said. “Seeing Scott’s speed is pretty impressive; I know we couldn’t have done that. We’ve got to be content with the front row.”

Rossi was one of four Andretti Autosport entries to compete in the Fast Nine Shootout. Teammates Takuma Sato (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda) and Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda) earned the fourth and fifth starting positions, respectively, with Marco Andretti (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda) qualifying eighth.

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