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Rossi Soars To Pole At The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 3 2017

Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi will start this weekend’s IndyCar Series race at the Watkins Glen road course from P1. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – New contract with Andretti Autosport in-hand and his right foot on the throttle, Alexander Rossi joined the ranks of Verizon IndyCar Series pole-winners Saturday afternoon at Watkins Glen International.

Rossi posted a last-lap flyer around the famed natural-terrain layout in his No. 98 Honda to claim the Verizon P1 Award for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. Rossi’s first career series pole was sweetened by the fact that he knocked defending event-winner Scott Dixon off the provisional top spot with a hot lap that also broke the Chip Ganassi Racing ace’s qualifying record set one year ago.

Rossi toured WGI’s 3.37-mile/11-turn layout in 1-minute, 22.4639-seconds/147.119 mph. Dixon set the record on The Glen’s then-recently repaved layout at 1:22.5259-seconds/147.008 mph last Sept. 3.

“I love this place. It’s one of my favorite road courses in the whole world actually,” said Rossi, who is in his second full season with Andretti Autosport after chasing a Formula One career. “It’s amazing to come here. It’s a joy to drive an Indy car around here. This is Indy cars at their absolute best, Watkins Glen.”

The lap was the quickest clocked during the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying, and earned Rossi the first pole of his 32-race Verizon IndyCar Series career.

Rossi was the last of the Fast Six drivers on the circuit at the session’s end, crossing the timing line to win pole as the others were in pit lane. The 25-year-old Californian’s best previous qualifying effort was third on two occasions, both on ovals this season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

“It’s a privilege,” Rossi said. “It was so exciting to me because I’d always watched Watkins Glen as a track in the old races, Formula One. I knew that kind of from hearsay it was an amazing track from guys over in Europe. I’d never been able to be here. I’m glad my first career pole is here. It’s fitting based on the fact that this is a track that is similar to the tracks that I kind of was racing on in Europe for so many years. It just all clicked here today.”

On Friday, team-owner Michael Andretti announced that Rossi had signed a “multi-year” contract to remain with the team. In addition, co-primary sponsor NAPA Auto Parts confirmed a 10-race co-sponsorship deal also beginning in 2018. While Rossi would only say the deal is for one year, it is believed to be a three-year contract for both himself and NAPA.

I don’t know the effect that (contract) may have subconsciously on not only me but the whole team,” said Rossi, who admittedly was talking to rival Honda teams. “Everyone from a mechanic, engineering, to management side, Silly Season takes a toll on everyone in different ways, right? For sure I wouldn’t dismiss or argue the fact that subconsciously it might have had a positive impact on all of us.”

Rossi will lead the 21-car field to the green flag for Sunday’s 60-lap/202.2-mile race (1 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). In winning the pole, Rossi denied Dixon a chance to edge closer to championship leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske in the point standings.

Recall that Dixon dominated last September’s event on a freshly repaved surface, completing a sweep of all three practices, qualifying on-pole in record-setting fashion and pacing Sunday morning’s warmup en route to a massive 16.5308-second victory over Newgarden, then of Ed Carpenter Racing. The winningest Indy car driver here with four, Dixon will start opposite Rossi after lapping at 1:22.5168/147.025 mph. Dixon’s lap pipped Newgarden by one ten-thousandth of a second.

Dixon will start the day looking to shave a 31-point championship deficit to Newgarden over the course of an event that likely will be run in full-wet conditions.

You know, starting spot, front row is definitely decent,” said Dixon. “The frustrating part is that we had plenty in-hand. The problem is if you cool off too much, it’s really hard to get back up to speed. We caught Helio (Castroneves) so quickly, I don’t know what he was doing out there, he was just sort of cruising around. We caught him way too fast with two laps to go.

“You know, maybe we should have backed off I think on the second-to-last lap. Definitely frustrating to lose it that way. But congrats to Rossi. Did a good job. You know, we’ve shown good speed this weekend. I think we’ve definitely got the car to beat. We just didn’t exercise it in qualifying.”

Regardless, Dixon is the only driver to reach all eight Fast Six rounds contested this season and has earned a top-five starting position in each of his eight visits to Watkins Glen. Dixon also broke his year-old track record during the second round of qualifying with a lap of 1:22.4171/147.202 mph.

Rossi, meanwhile, timed his last lap to perfection en route to the second-biggest moment of his INDYCAR career. Rossi, of course, shocked the motorsports world by winning the 100th edition of the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in May 2016.

“It was a big lap we needed,” Rossi said. “I mean, each lap was faster. We’ve seen that on the (Firestone) black tires. Each lap, they get better and better. Penultimate lap I did was quick, but it was a little bit sloppy. I knew that as grip came up, if I just cleaned up a couple areas, I would be faster. It’s just the way that those tires work. The golden lap is really Lap 5. Lap 4 is always going to be better than Lap 3. The whole team has been working so hard and they deserve this. This championship, there’s so much that can go on.

“With weather coming, that adds another variable, but we’re clicking at a level that we haven’t in the past and the momentum is on our side. We just have to capitalize and enjoy this for the next 30 minutes, then focus on the work we have to do tomorrow.”

Sunday’s forecast is for 90 percent chance of rain and/or thunderstorms. That scenario would introduce most of the field to Firestone’s rain tire. Each team has been allotted five sets of rain rubber.

Dixon’s win last year at the Upstate New York facility was the fourth in seven series races during the current era of competition that began in 2005. With 54 maximum points available at WGI, the championship lead could change for the fifth time in 2017. The season-finale at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California will pay double-points down the line, adding to the late-season intrigue.

“We haven’t run here, I don’t believe, on the new surface in the rain,” Dixon said. “I think there was a test that we did here, but it was kind of very intermediate conditions. Yeah, it will be probably a lot higher attrition I think if it plays out that way. It’s a very high-speed track. Definitely have the possibility to make some mistakes more on the wet. But, yeah, I think it would definitely put on a very interesting show, that’s for sure.”

Newgarden, in his rookie season with Team Penske, took over the championship lead for the first time in his six-year career following a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 30. He will start third after lapping at 1:22.5169/147.024 mph.

Yeah, it’s a super position,” said Newgarden. “I don’t think I’ve ever really had to say this much, but I think I messed-up a pole run, to be honest with you. I lost two or three-tenths in the final corner. I don’t remember ever having to say that. I feel pretty stupid in a way, but at the same time a little bit surprised.

I don’t think we expected to be in that pole fight whatsoever. I think we were fighting just to get into the Fast Six today. That was kind of our goal. If we want to beat Dixon, I’ve got to get everything out of Turn 9 as well. I just deuced it, totally messed it up, lost a couple 10ths. I feel so silly for messing up what could have been a pole position.”

Reigning Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato, Rossi’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, qualified fourth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:22.5660/146.937 mph). Charlie Kimball was fifth in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 83 Honda (1:22.8081/146.507 mph), with Castroneves sixth in the No. 3 Chevrolet (1:23.3350/145.581 mph).

Newgarden, Dixon, Castroneves, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud (who qualified 12th), Penske’s Will Power (qualified eighth), Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (qualified 10th), Rossi and Sato all remain mathematically alive for the championship. Drivers must be within 104 points of the leader following this event, with only the double-points GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma remaining on Sept. 17.

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Rinus VeeKay of Pabst Racing took the lead from pole-sitter Oliver Askew of Cape Motorsports with a Turn 1 pass on the first lap and drove on to win the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda season-ending race at Watkins Glen_ but Askew finished second to claim the championship.

With the title, Askew earned his third Mazda scholarship in a year _ this one to advance to Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires competition in 2018. Askew, of Jupiter, Fla., won a Team USA Scholarship to represent his nation in prestigious races in England last fall, then won the $200,000 Mazda Shootout to earn a USF2000 ride this season. It also is the seventh straight driver’s title won by Cape Motorsports.

“I’ve dreamt about this moment for so long,” Askew said after his 11th podium in 14 races this season. “It’s such a huge weight off my shoulders, to be champion.”

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Victor Franzoni of Juncos Racing passed Anthony Martin of Cape Motorsports heading into Watkins Glen’s famed Bus Stop chicane for the lead on Lap 12 and drove away to win the first Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires race of the Watkins Glen doubleheader weekend to conclude the season. By scoring maximum points in the race and capturing pole for Sunday’s second race, Franzoni extended his unofficial championship lead over Martin to nine points.

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Qualifying results for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 3.37-mile/11-turn Watkins Glen International road-course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine and time/speed:

1. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:22.4639-seconds/147.119 mph
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:22.5168/147.025
3. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:22.5169/147.024
4. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:22.5660/146.937 
5. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:22.808/146.507
6. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:23.3350/145.581
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:22.9854/146.194
8. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:23.0987/145.995
9. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:23.1459/145.912
10. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:23.2240/145.775
11. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:23.2959/145.649
12. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:23.2981/145.646
13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:23.4917/145.308
14. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:23.5089/145.278
15. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:23.9851/144.454
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:23.6854/144.972 
17. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:23.9982/144.432
18. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:24.1390/144.190
19. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:24.2012/144.083
20. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:24.1779/144.123
21. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:24.4543/143.652

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 3 2017
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