Photo: IndyCar

Scott Dixon turns fastest speeds at IMS since 1996

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There is no doubt that Scott Dixon blitzed the field to score the score the pole for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

His four-lap average of 232.164 mph was half a mile an hour up on second-place Ed Carpenter, and he and Carpenter were the only ones to break the 232 mph barrier all day.

For Dixon, however, his run has some historical significance. It was the fastest qualifying run since Arie Luyendyk’s record-breaking four-lap average of 236.986 mph in 1996. Luyendyk’s fastest lap during that run came in at 237.498 mph, while Dixon’s was at 232.595 mph (his first lap).

Dixon admitted that the speed took him by surprise. “I thought maybe the dash had broken on the steering wheel and brought up a fake number. But yeah, I don’t know, we seriously don’t think we expected to see the speed that we did,” Dixon quipped in the press conference afterward.

He added that the lead up to his run was marked by a big debate between him and engineer Chris Simmons about how much downforce to run.

“The whole pre-lineup for qualifying (I) was debating with Chris Simmons, my engineer, on ‘Man, we trimmed too much, we trimmed too much,’ and I was basically talking myself out of it and seeing if he could maybe put some more downforce in the car, and he was like ‘Man, don’t worry. It’s going to be fine, it’s going to be fine,'” he said of the exchange.

Circumstances during the weekend also brought about an interesting challenge. Rain on both Saturday and Sunday limited practice in the morning, and Dixon was one of several drivers who did not turn laps during Sunday morning practice. He revealed that the prospect of doing a qualifying run without practicing earlier in the day had him worried.

“It’s been a little weird in the fact that both days we haven’t run in the practice, so the first time for myself and my teammates has been just getting in the car qualifying, and it’s kind of daunting. I’ve never done it before,” he revealed. “You have all these crazy things that run through your mind, especially when you watch a lot of the other competitors either touch the wall or have really bad runs. You think you’re maybe heading in the wrong direction and the computer isn’t telling you the right settings for the ambient conditions and things like that.”

Dixon’s pole is the first for Chip Ganassi Racing since they switched to Honda for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. As he detailed, the run to the pole illustrates how successful the transition has been.

“I think we kind of felt that this would be one of the first strong tracks for Honda with the aero kit especially,” he asserted. “I think Honda and HPD and the integration that we’ve had with them I think has been pretty seamless. Everything is very adjustable, and they push to the limit, as we’ve seen throughout the year, and it’s a fun environment to be involved with.”

Scott Dixon pulls into the pits after his run for the pole. Photo: IndyCar

This is the third pole for Dixon at the Indianapolis 500, and the 26th of his overall IndyCar career. Dixon’s lone “500” win came from the pole in 2008, and he may have repeated the feat in 2015 until the car began overheating in the final stint, which relegated him to fourth at race’s end. While he is thrilled about securing the pole, Dixon knows that the ultimate goal is still a week away.

“Indianapolis is always about two big hills throughout the weeks, and you’ve got the pole first, the pole preparation of the race car, and then into the race. This is the first step of it, but now our focus is obviously quickly transferred to tomorrow. We’ve got another four hours of track time and trying to make the No. 9 car as fast as possible.”

Practice rolls off once more at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway today at 12:30 p.m., and will be the last on-track running for the Verizon Indycar Series until Miller Lite Carb Day on May 26 (11:00 a.m. on NBCSN).

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.