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Newgarden, Dixon just miss out on Watkins Glen pole

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – In the final minutes of Firestone Fast Six qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series, both Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon appeared destined to score poles for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.

First off, Newgarden was on his last run and looked set to turn the fastest lap of the session at that time. And while he did momentarily set the fastest lap, he ultimately left time on the table as he went a little wide exiting Turn 9 and dipped his wheels onto the grass, kicking up a big cloud of dust in the process.

He explained in the post-qualifying press conference that it ultimately cost him at least a couple tenths of a second, which would have made the difference in him securing the pole.

“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,” Newgarden revealed. “I lost two or three tenths in the final corner. I don’t remember ever having to say that.”

Newgarden added that he overshot Turn 9 as a result of thinking he needed to charge through the corner in order jump over Dixon and the other Honda drivers.

“(The lap) was like projected at an 82.2 (seconds) going into Turn 9. 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 tenths. Great lap time, good starting position for us. I feel so silly for messing up what could have been a pole position.”

Like Newgarden, Scott Dixon felt like he left a pole on the table. Immediately after Newgarden’s aforementioned run, Dixon clocked in with a lap of 1:22.5168. In comparison to Newgarden’s lap (a 1:22.5169), the difference between the two was one ten-thousandth of a second, the smallest margin possible under IndyCar’s scoring system.

Scott Dixon appeared set to score the pole before Alexander Rossi took it from him with the last run of the day. Photo: IndyCar

However, on his next lap, Dixon came up on a slowing Helio Castroneves, delaying his run enough to force him to abort. Unable to get his Firestone black tires up to temperature after that, Dixon could not turn a faster lap, and ultimately had to settle for second when Alexander Rossi swooped in to take the pole with the last run of the session.

Although starting on the front row is a solid result on the surface, Dixon couldn’t help but be disappointed to miss out on the pole.

“The frustrating part is that we had plenty in hand,” Dixon lamented. “The problem is if you cool off (the tires) too much, it’s really hard to get back up to speed. We caught Helio 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.”

Dixon added that he believed the car had plenty of speed in it to take the pole had he been able to get a cleaner run, as evidenced during Round 2 of qualifying, when he set a lap record with a lap time of 1:22.4171.

“I think we had probably another three or four tenths in the car. Definitely frustrating to lose it that way. We showed that speed definitely in Q2.”

The result ultimately proves critical in the championship chase, in which Newgarden leads Dixon by 31 points entering Sunday’s race, as neither driver was able to score a vital championship for the pole.

Newgarden, given that the events of qualifying prevented Dixon from securing that championship point, expressed a small amount of relief in considering that.

“Every point counts, so for sure I think it helps. It’s small, small little detail. But it adds up,” said Newgarden.

Dixon will flank pole sitter Alexander Rossi on the front row, while Newgarden will start third for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen (1:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).


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.