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.”
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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