Scott Dixon wins fifth Indy 500 pole and second consecutive to lead fastest front row

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INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon dethroned teammate Alex Palou to win the pole position for the 106th Indy 500 as Chip Ganassi Racing dominated qualifying Sunday.

Dixon earned his fifth pole position on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval with a four-lap average of 234.046 mph, the second-fastest qualifying speed in Indy 500 history behind Arie Luyendyk’s 236.896 mph in 1996.

Dixon has the fastest four-lap average by a pole-sitter in Indy 500 history, and he ranks second all time in Indy 500 poles behind Rick Mears (six, 1979, ‘82, ‘86, ‘88, ‘89, ‘91).

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For the second consecutive year, the six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion’s No. 9 Dallara-Honda will start first in the Indy 500 on May 29 (11 a.m. ET, NBC).

“This what this place is about,” Dixon told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It’s so amazing. The ups and downs that you have just in one day is crazy.

“Hard work and people. I’m one of the lucky guys part of this team that gets to drive it and gets to take it across the line. The amount of effort back in the shop and through HPD and Honda, the speed that they bring. And huge thanks to all my teammates. We’ve worked really hard to put this team together and try to get the most of it.”

Palou qualified second at 233.499, followed by Rinus VeeKay (233.385 as the top Chevrolet after turning the fastest four laps Saturday).

The front row posted three of the top five qualifying speeds in Indy 500 history while taking advantage of a 90 extra horsepower turbo boost added for qualifying. It’s the fastest front row in Indy 500 history, breaking a 26-year-old mark.

“I think we could have put rocket fuel in our engine and still not beat Scott,” VeeKay said. “He was not just a fraction faster. He was a lot faster than everyone else.”

The speeds of Palou and VeeKay slotted in behind the late Scott Brayton, who posted the third-fastest qualifying speed (233.718) with the 1996 pole position.

Dixon, the first repeat pole-sitter since Ed Carpenter in 2013-14, earned his lone Indy 500 win in 2008, the first time he qualified first at the 2.5-mile track. In his other pole starts, he has finished fourth (2015), 32nd (2017) and 17th (2021).

“This is Stage 1,” Dixon said. “Obviously doesn’t mean nothing come next Sunday. We’re starting in the right spot. We haven’t had a good record in keeping in the right spot, but we’ll definitely be trying come next Sunday.”

Chip Ganassi Racing put four of its five Hondas in the top two rows but came up short of the first front-row lockout of an Indy 500 since 1988 (Team Penske with Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and Al Unser). It’s Ganassi’s first 1-2 start in the Indy 500 since Dixon and Dan Wheldon in ’08.

Ed Carpenter (233.080), Marcus Ericsson (232.764) and Tony Kanaan (232.372) qualified on the second row Sunday.

Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist, Romain Grosjean, Takuma Sato, Will Power and Jimmie Johnson occupied the next two rows after being eliminated during the first round Sunday.

Though there remained no major crashes during five days of on-track activity over the past week, there were some harrowing moments Sunday for two famous rookies.

Johnson will start 12th in his Indy 500 debut after coming inches from smacking the Turn 1 wall with his No. 48 Dallara-Honda on the first lap of green.

“The track’s a little different than it was this morning,” the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns with a laugh. “The same approach wasn’t going to work. We certainly were trying for it. That’s the most effort in the setup of the car and trim settings that we’ve had. Just committed to run one flat, and it just was so light on top of the track.  I was wide and trying to keep it off the fence at that point.

“Inexperience, ultimately. I think the sunlight on the track and the track temp coming up, and these conditions. Just trying to find that right balance in the race car. These guys are so good at what they do in these trickier conditions. I just need a bit more experience.”

Grosjean also had a major moment and nearly tagged the Turn 1 wall during the second lap of his qualifying run.

“That was scary,” the Formula One veteran told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee with a laugh. “Track conditions changed a lot from the morning.

We tried everything we had to go fast to get some speed in the car, but it was definitely a run that wasn’t easy. Honestly, I used all the tools in the car and wasn’t (fast enough), so I’m glad it’s behind me. I’m proud of what we’ve done so far.”

At least they had some good company Sunday as IndyCar unveiled a new format that required the pole-sitter to make three four-lap runs — two within two hours — around the punishing 2.5-mile oval.

Dixon exaggerated a shaking right hand before starting an NBC Sports interview, emphasizing how much bravery was required by the six-time IndyCar Series champion to post the fastest first-round speed of 233.510 mph.

“This place does it to you every time,” Dixon said with a smile to NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing

To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

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“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.

Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”