Rossi powers to maiden IndyCar pole in Watkins Glen (VIDEO)

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Drama between championship contenders Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden was amplified by Dixon edging Newgarden by the smallest possible margin in INDYCAR’s timing system – 0.0001 of a second – for what looked to be the pole position and the bonus point that went with it.

Then Alexander Rossi promptly stole the pole, the point and the headlines on his final lap by beating them both for the top spot for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Rossi, in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda, continued his incredible weekend with his first career pole at a best time of 1:22.4639 on blacks in the Firestone Fast Six session.

That time was 0.0529 of a second ahead of Dixon’s 1:22.5168, and 0.0530 of a second ahead of Newgarden’s 1:22.5169.

“It was a big lap we needed. The lap before was pretty good, but they came on the radio and said, ‘You need at least a tenth.’ So, we went for it, dug deep and the NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Honda has been so good since we rolled off. We’ve never been lower than fifth,” Rossi said.

“It’s amazing to finally accomplish this, especially on the back of the announcement on Friday and I think it’s been a long time coming, so it’s just nice to finally get that. 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.”

Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball and Helio Castroneves completed the Firestone Fast Six at the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International road course.

Honda’s leading pace continued in Q1, Group 1, with Rossi leading the session from Newgarden, Castroneves, Sato and Kimball and Will Power. Rossi’s time was 1:23.0804 and Power was at 1:23.4104, with Spencer Pigot just missing out at 1:23.4917.

Besides Pigot, Ed Jones, Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton were also knocked out.

In Group 2, Dixon led the session ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais (who advanced on blacks), Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud and Carlos Munoz.

Those knocked out were Conor Daly, edged by his teammate at the end of the session, along with James Hinchcliffe, Jack Harvey in his road course IndyCar qualifying debut, Marco Andretti and JR Hildebrand.

Q2 was intense with the lap times changing all the way down to the wire. Hunter-Reay, Power, Bourdais, Rahal, Munoz and Pagenaud got knocked out. Hunter-Reay missed by just 0.032 of a second, and Bourdais’ primary black strategy misfired as he hoped to advance again.

Those who made it through to the Firestone Fast Six in a goofy session included Dixon, who led with a new track record 1:22.4171, Rossi, Sato, Kimball, Castroneves and Newgarden. This marked Kimball’s first Fast Six appearance of the season, first since Mid-Ohio last year when he qualified fifth.

Newgarden nearly crashed exiting The Boot but moved to the top as a result, before Dixon beat that time. Then Rossi beat them both, and that was all she wrote for the session.


WATKINS GLEN, New York – Qualifying Saturday for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:22.4639 (147.119)
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, 01:22.8081 (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)

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.