Dixon drops the hammer in Watkins Glen second practice

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Four-time Watkins Glen winner Scott Dixon took a strong step towards a fifth by dominating the second practice session for this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.

Dixon, driving the No. 9 NTT Data Honda, laid down a best time of 1:22.6187 early on in the one-hour session, which held up for the rest of the way, and was set on Firestone’s black primary tire.

As Dixon’s pole time was 1:22.5259 last year, it was a highly impressive time considering both Firestone’s blacks and also red alternate tires can be used in the session. Cool conditions played into the great times, with ambient temperatures only in the 50-degree Fahrenheit range all session.

It was the second straight session a Honda led, after Graham Rahal flew to the top of the charts near the end of the morning session.

Rahal was third this session, behind top Chevrolet runner Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Power was close at 1:22.7129, with Rahal third in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at 1:22.9716.

Those three drivers were the only three in the 1:22 bracket this session.

Points leader Josef Newgarden was only 10th; Jack Harvey improved to 18th, actually ahead of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate James Hinchcliffe, by just 0.004 of a second.

The session had five extra minutes added on following a red flag for an incident for Max Chilton. The Englishman lost control of his No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda exiting the Bus Stop and tattooed the wall at Turn 5 with the right side of his car.

Helio Castroneves had a minor off exiting the Boot and brushed the guardrail, but returned without any significant damage to his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Third practice runs from 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. ET tomorrow morning. Times are below.

After Will Power extension, Marcus Ericsson among IndyCar drivers awaiting new deals

IndyCar free agents
Chris Owens, Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

FORT WORTH, Texas – Defending series champion Will Power’s name is off the board of potential IndyCar free agents, but there’s still much to be settled in the field – starting with the reigning Indy 500 winner.

Marcus Ericsson is waiting on a contract offer to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing beyond the 2023 season (his fourth with the team). The Swede said he’s made it clear to car owner Chip Ganassi that he wants to stay in the No. 8 Dallara-Honda, which has four victories since June 2021.

“Yeah, it’s up to him, basically,” Ericsson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “He needs to give me an offer for ’24 onward. The ball is in his corner. I really enjoy it at Ganassi, and we’ve done a lot of great things together and would love to continue, but the ball is in his corner. He knows very well what I want.”

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Two days before Ericsson won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener March 5, Ganassi sang the praises of the emerging star driver to a small group of reporters.

“I want him here beyond this year,” Ganassi said of Ericsson. “He seems to have gotten more out of winning the Indy 500 than anyone else has of recent time, which is a good thing. He did a good job. He’s been everywhere. It’s been a really positive thing for Marcus, the team, the series. He’s grown with that as well.”

Ericsson didn’t sew up his current deal until late in his breakthrough 2021 season (after a memorable victory in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix). So he isn’t necessarily anxious about it but conceded he “was thinking a bit about it over the winner in the offseason and talking about it

“But now that the season has started, I told my managers and everyone I want to focus on the driving. They focus on those things. Now the season is on, and I want to try to win races, win another 500 and championship. That’s where my focus is. (A new contract) is one of those things that happens when it happens. But I’m happy where I am, and I want to do well.”

IndyCar’s two best teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, tend to be very tight-lipped about their drivers’ contract status.

Power confirmed Friday to journalist Bruce Martin that his new deal was for multiple seasons. That means all three of Penske’s drivers are in multiple-year contracts (unlike Power’s deal, Scott McLaughlin’s extension was announced by the team last year).

But there is more uncertainty at Ganassi’s four cars aside from Ericsson. While Scott Dixon has a ride for as long as he wants (and the six-time champion has given no indication of retiring), Ganassi’s other two other seats have yet to be solidified beyond 2023.

The No. 11 is being split this year by rookie Marcus Armstrong and veteran Takuma Sato this season. In  the No. 10, Alex Palou is believed to be in his final year at Ganassi before heading to Arrow McLaren.

That expected move would cast doubt on the future of Felix Rosenqvist, who returned to Arrow McLaren when the team was unable to bring in Palou (who was embroiled in a contract dispute with Ganassi).

Aside from Penske, virtually every other IndyCar team (including Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Meyer Shank Racing, which has Helio Castroneves in a contract year) has seats that potentially could open for next season, and even drivers who appear to be under contract for next year still could be on the move (via buyouts and option years).

Though Juncos Hollinger Racing announced a “long-term, multiyear contract partnership” last July with Callum Ilott, but the second-year driver was cagey Friday when asked about how long the extension ran.

“It’s for whatever I want it to be,” said Ilott, who finished a career-best fifth at St. Petersburg. “I’ll say that.”

Before returning to JHR, Ilott turned enough heads as a rookie to draw interest from several teams, and he indicated Friday that he still would be listening.

“I’d love to talk to some other big teams,” Ilott said. “Nothing stops me from talking. Look, you’ve got to be fair. I agreed to (the deal), but it’s pretty obvious that I’m quite interested as people are interested in me as a driver, but I need to focus on the job I’ve got here.

“I’m confident whether it’s in one year, two years, three years, four years, that if I’m wanted now, I’ll always be wanted. I’m a good enough driver that I don’t need to lack confidence in that side. … I’m not worried.”