(WATKINS GLEN, NY) – Last year, Scott Dixon took his No. 9 Ganassi Racing car to the top of every board, for every on-track session. He topped all the practices, won the pole, and it was never anyone’s race to win but Dixon’s.
On this chilly August day, Graham Rahal (No. 15 RLL Honda) decided it was time for a different driver to sit atop the boards, so he ran a 1:23.2603 lap. That lap in the last minute of morning practice, ousted Alexander Rossi (No. 98 NAPA Andretti Autosport Honda) whose quick lap of 1:23.4686 had led the field for the majority of the session. Max Chilton, who has been vocal (at least on the radio) about his frustration and dissatisfaction with the No. 8 Ganassi Racing team’s performance recently, came in P3.
Dixon ran in P1 for a short period of time, ultimately finishing in the P4 position. Could this session be foreshadowing the weekend? The cooler temps, the next generation of Indy car drivers having a say-so, and the thirst throughout the paddock to grab one of the two remaining event wins has the potential to create a weekend as competitive as the series itself.
James Hinchcliffe rounded out the all-Honda Top 5. Hinchcliffe had a win in Long Beach back in April and two podiums since (Belle Isle – Race 1, Toronto). He’s looking to have a stronger finish at Watkins Glen this year – if you’ll recall, his car didn’t make it to the checkered flag in 2016, running out of fuel on the last lap. He got a ride back to the pits from Sebastien Bourdais. And as memorable as that image was… I doubt he wants to repeat it:
Spencer Pigot was the fastest Chevy in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka car for Ed Carpenter Racing. Pigot started at the back of the field last year with a finish of P15. He’s had a less than stellar year, sharing the duties of the car with team owner, Carpenter, on oval weekends. I would personally like to see what Pigot is capable of given the opportunity to drive one car for a full-season.
It’s my opinion that the best chance for young drivers to hone their craft is to gain experience on the full variety of tracks that are raced in the Verizon IndyCar Series. How can we expect them to become a well-rounded motorsports athlete without exposing them to everything the series has to offer?
Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and Marco Andretti (No. 27 UFD Honda) took positions P7 and P8 respectively. Hunter-Reay won the 2008 race at Watkins Glen, his most recent win came at Pocono Raceway in 2015.
You have to go back to P9 before you find a Team Penske car – points leader Josef Newgarden had that position with his. No. 2 PPG Chevy followed by the reigning series champion, Simon Pagenaud, in his bright yellow No. 1 Menard’s Chevy. Neither driver has won at Watkins Glen, with only last year’s event on their resume.
How much will these results translate to qualifying? It’s hard to say.
The ambient temps were in low 50’s with track temp in the 70’s during this morning’s session. The afternoon session will see the ambient moving up roughly 10 more degrees and a track temp likely in the 80’s or lower 90’s. The forecast shows temperatures even warmer tomorrow which could change tire response to the track and how the cars handle. And have I mentioned the wind at the track? There’s a lot of it. All of this could make for qualifying knockout rounds as unpredictable as the first practice results!