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Scott Dixon Blasts To Pole For 101st Indy 500

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 21 2017

New Zealander Scott Dixon will chase his second Indy 500 victory from P1 next Sunday. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

New Zealander Scott Dixon added some beef to his Indy car driving resume Sunday when he won the pole for next Sunday’s 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.

Dixon _ a four time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, a 40-race winner and 2008 Indy 500 champion _ posted a four-lap/10-mile average speed of 232.164 mph around the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout.

“We knew the conditions were much better today (than in Saturday’s first round of qualifying) and we took a little bit of a gamble trimming-out (taking downforce from the Chip Ganassi Racing Honda),” Dixon said. “The car was fast.

“I love this place. I love the fans here. You can hear them in the background when the big speeds go up. Man, it’s emotional.”

Dixon’s sprint in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda produced the best speed at IMS since Arie Luyendyk set the track record of 236.986 mph during 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 onto 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.”

Dixon logged his third Indy 500 pole _ he won from P1 in 2008 _ and the 26th of his 17-year Indy car career, moving the 36-year-old past Paul Tracy and 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. His first lap of 232.595 mph also was the fastest official lap recorded at IMS since the 1996 Indy 500 race. Luyendyk still holds the single-lap standard, 237.498 mph, set during his record qualifying run.

Dixon will pace 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 reigning 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 series race poles won by Team Penske, dating to the 2016 season-finale at Sonoma (Calif.) 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 point lead by 21 over 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske heading into an Indy 500 worth double-points.

“Today, we managed to get it done and we’re starting in the right place,” said Dixon, who celebrated with wife Emma and daughters Poppy and Tilly along pit road. “The hard part now is to keep it there.”

The last of the Fast Nine drivers to have a shot at Dixon was Carpenter, who was fastest on Saturday.  Carpenter, the Indy hometown hero, took a big swing and ended up with an average speed of 231.664 mph, good for a P2/middle of Row 1 start in next Sunday’s version of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Carpenter, the series’ only owner/driver and an oval-track specialist, was surprised by the speed he showed both days and pleased overall about his grid position.

“Kind of like yesterday. If you would have told me we would average what I did, I would have thought I’d probably be on the pole,” said Carpenter, who has started from P1 at the world’s most important automobile race in 2013 and 2014. “It’s nice to have a Chevy on the front row, but when I saw Dixon’s time I knew it was going to be hard to beat.

“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 series start _ his previous best was fifth earlier this season on the Streets of 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.

Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Driving Champion, went out third and with a brand new Honda engine behind him, as engineers found his old engine to be a bit off after warmups Sunday. The run was impressive for any driver, let alone one who never had raced on an oval before reporting to Indy earlier this month. Alonso’s average speed of 231.300 mph put him on-pole until Rossi knocked him off about 15 minutes later.

Alonso said a slight hiccup on the final corner of the final lap kept him from producing an even bigger number. Still, he was wearing a big smile after his run.

“This is the biggest race in the world,” Alonso said, “and I felt that the first time I came here. But the circuit was empty so you feel something, but now the qualifying arrived and the speed picks up and seeing all the fans and the place getting up to speed and it’s even more amazing. Looking forward to next Sunday.”

Alonso, who drives for McLaren Honda in the FIA Formula One World Championship, had the most eventful day of the Andretti drivers. After his McLaren orange No. 29 car underwent a lightning-quick engine change following the pre-qualifying practice, the 35-year-old Spaniard was the first of the Fast Nine drivers to surpass 231 mph with a four-lap average at 231.300 mph.

“The practice felt good on the car and then we spotted some issues with the engine,” Alonso said. “At one point in the morning, we didn’t know if we were able to run in qualifying because we had to change the whole engine. But the team was amazing. They were guys from all six (Andretti) teams working on car (No.) 29 just to make it possible, so thanks to all that teamwork, I was able to go for qualifying.”

Rounding out the top nine qualifiers were JR Hildebrand (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Chevrolet) in sixth, 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) seventh and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) ninth.

Andretti Autosport landed a fifth driver in the top 10 when 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay led Group 1 qualifying to determine race starting positions 10 through 33. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda ran four laps at 231.442 mph, which would have been good for fourth had it come in the Fast Nine Shootout. As it stands, Hunter-Reay will start on the inside of Row 4, with rookie Ed Jones (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda) and veteran Oriol Servia (No. 16 Manitowoc Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) alongside.

Team Penske, owner of a record 16 Indianapolis 500 wins, struggled in qualifying. Power was slowest in the Fast Nine Shootout and will start on the outside of Row 3. Two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya qualified on the outside of Row 6 and three-time winner Helio Castroneves on the inside of Row 7, with Josef Newgarden and reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud occupying the inside and middle of Row 8.

Thirty-two cars qualified Sunday. The 33rd position on the grid will be filled by James Davison, named to replace the injured Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 GEICO Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Bourdais sustained multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip when he crashed making a qualifying attempt Saturday.

According to Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director, the four-time Indy car champion underwent successful surgery Saturday night at IU Health Methodist Hospital. Bourdais, a four-time Indy car champion, released a statement Sunday.

“I want to thank everybody for the support and the messages,” the 38-year-old with 36 career Indy car wins said. “Quite a few drivers have already dropped by. It’s going to take time, but I’m feeling pretty good since the surgery. I’ll be back at some point. Just don’t know when yet.”

The 33 entries are scheduled to return for a practice from 12:30-4 p.m. (ET) Monday that streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The traditional final one-hour session, on Miller Lite Carb Day, is set for 11 a.m. Friday and will air on NBC Sports Network.

The 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil will air live at 11 a.m. Sunday on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.  

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Results of qualifying Sunday for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 02:35.0630 (232.164 mph)
2. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 02:35.3976 (231.664)     
3. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 02:35.5163 (231.487)     
4. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 02:35.5981 (231.365)      
5. (29) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 02:35.6423 (231.300)     
6. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 02:35.9191 (230.889)     
7. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 02:35.9601 (230.828)     
8. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 02:36.1998 (230.474)     
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 02:36.3859 (230.200)     
10. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 02:35.5463 (231.442)     
11. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 02:36.1293 (230.578)     
12. (16) Oriol Servia, Honda, 02:36.3118 (230.309)     
13. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 02:36.3377 (230.271)      
14. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 02:36.3499 (230.253)     
15. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 02:36.4758 (230.068)     
16. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 02:36.5514 (229.956)     
17. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 02:36.6169 (229.860)     
18. (22) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 02:36.8180 (229.565)
19. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 02:36.8528 (229.515) 
20. (77) Jay Howard, Honda, 02:36.9213 (229.414)     
21. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 02:36.9447 (229.380)     
22. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 02:37.5488 (228.501) 
23. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 02:37.8303 (228.093) 
24. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 02:37.9497 (227.921)     
25. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 02:38.6458 (226.921)     
26. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 02:38.9831 (226.439)     
27. (50) Jack Harvey, Honda, 02:39.4741 (225.742)     
28. (63) Pippa Mann, Honda, 02:39.9944 (225.008)     
29. (11) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 02:40.6768 (224.052) 
30. (44) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 02:41.1340 (223.417)     
31. (17) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 02:42.7911 (221.142) 
32. (40) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 02:42.8360 (221.081)      
33. (18) James Davison, Honda, no time, (no speed)   

 

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 21 2017
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