The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to Watkins Glen this weekend, and a familiar face took the top spot on the speed chart. Scott Dixon is a four-time race winner at Watkins Glen, which includes last year’s victory from pole position. He set the track record with that run in qualifying last year, and wasn’t far off in today’s practice. The Kiwi, who trails Josef Newgarden by 31 points in the championship, had a best lap of 1:22.6187 seconds on Friday.
Dixon has led 118 laps at Watkins Glen, while the rest of the field combined has led 136 total laps. Will Power has had success here as well, and was second-fastest today. Graham Rahal was third fastest on the day, and led the opening session of practice this morning. Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five.
Friday Combined Practice Results
It has been a busy year for Rossi, who just signed a two-year extension with Andretti Autosport this week. He has been running strong all season, but didn’t have the luck/results early in the season. Over his last four races though, he has finished 2nd, 6th, 3rd, and 6th. Even more impressive, those were all on very different tracks – a street circuit, paved road course, superspeedway, and a short oval. Rossi acknowledged the fact that he was talking with other teams, but with Michael Andretti sticking with Honda and securing the NAPA sponsorship, it ended up being an obvious choice.
Newgarden was 11th overall on Friday, which was the slowest of the four Team Penske machines. Still, expect him to be fast tomorrow when it counts in qualifying. Josef has won three of the last four races, and the team is seeking their sixth straight victory on Sunday. Newgarden is the only driver to have won four races this season.
Jack Harvey is making his third start in the series this weekend, as he pilots the No. 7 car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the final two events of the season. He made his debut earlier in May with Andretti Autosport in the Indianapolis 500. That seat will be one to watch for next season, as Silly Season hits full swing.
It may not have been a great sample size, but neither manufacturer seems to be the dominant force this weekend. The top seven in combined practice alternated between Honda and Chevrolet. Dixon crushed the competition last year, driving a Chevy. He looks to be fast in the Honda, as do Rahal and Hunter-Reay.
There were two incidents this afternoon, with Max Chilton making the first contact after spinning off the exit curbing in the Bus Stop area. His Ganassi machine made significant contact with the guardrail, which brought out the red flag. Helio Castroneves had lighter contact with the guardrail exiting Turn 11, but his damage was far less substantial.
There will be one final 45-minute practice session tomorrow at 10:30 AM, followed by qualifying for the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen, which begins at 3 PM. IndyCar will live stream qualifications, and NBCSN will re-air them at 7 PM.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “We made a few changes to the Menards Chevy and we made some gains in the second session today. I think we are getting closer. But it looks like weather is going to play a factor this weekend so we have to keep an eye on that and figure out the best way to adjust. I feel good about the direction we are going.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was a good day for the DeVilbiss Chevrolet team. I think there are still some things to find and some room to grow. The pace of the car is good, but the differences are so small in the Verizon IndyCar Series. You can’t leave a stone unturned. If you do, then you’re behind. We’ll continue to look at the data and collect all of the information from my teammates. It’s important to have it ready for qualifying tomorrow, so that’s what we’ll do.”
Helio Castroneves: “We were really happy with the Hitachi Chevy in the second practice session. We made a lot of improvements from the morning. We ran into a little traffic and we had a little incident where we went off track briefly, but after we came in and looked at the car we actually went faster so it was all good. I’m really looking forward to qualifying tomorrow.”
Conor Daly: “I think today was a good day for us. We missed out on running a second set of black tires in the first session which is a shame. But we made a good improvement in the second session. It’s close again as usual. I think we have a good direction to go and we’re not far out of that top 12 so that’s what we have to aim for tomorrow.”
Max Chilton: “It all happened very quickly. I’m not sure if something failed or what it was. This morning the Gallagher car was quick, and then this afternoon we’ve been battling a balance problem and we really didn’t change anything. I went through the bus stop and caught it once, and then when I went back to the throttle it came back around. I’m not sure if something broke in the rear but it’s very unusual. This is a track that really works for me and for something to happen like that when I wasn’t pushing that hard is very bizarre.”
Scott Dixon: “The NTT Data car was really fast out there. We still have a little bit of work to do out there, but the team brought some really good race cars to Watkins Glen this weekend. The team is very strong here – these high-speed road courses like Mid-Ohio are where we seem to excel. I think this place really suits my driving style and I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s qualifying.”
Tony Kanaan: “We struggled a little bit today, especially in that first practice. We found a problem with the car during the first session, but with it being a shorter session, we couldn’t fix it until after that practice ended and we got back to the garage. Because of that, we spent this afternoon playing catch up, but I think we have a pretty good idea on a direction to go. Out of the four cars on our team, I was the only one who didn’t come here to test earlier in the season because I was in Le Mans and then Dixon came here by himself. It’s a momentum track, so it takes you a little bit to really get going. I would say we have a high possibility to be in the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow, but it’s going to be really hard to beat Dixon out there especially after having a start like that.”
Will Power: “We learned a lot today. The Verizon Chevy was pretty good. It was good to get a feel of the red tires (Firestone alternate) versus the black tires (Firestone primary). I feel like the course has changed a little over the last year, but it’s still super fast. Qualifying is important as ever. It’s not easy to pass here and I don’t think the weather will affect it that much should it be wet on Sunday. Maybe before everyone is able to get their braking zones figured out. Overall, though, it was a good day and we look forward to some fine tuning tomorrow in practice before qualifying.”
Carlos Munoz: “First my mechanic Pat (Jordan) is good. Hopefully he will have a quick recovery. I feel sorry for him – it was my mistake. It was an okay day as far as practice goes. We did some changes for Practice 2, but it didn’t work as we planned. We thought we’d go quicker but we didn’t. We have to think about tomorrow and make a good prep.”
Graham Rahal: “Overall, it was a very good day. I feel like we made really good gains on the setup. The car rolled off the trailer extremely competitive and that’s what you need because you don’t want to have to reinvent the wheel during the weekend. The guys have done a great job. The car is close. Do we want to be a little bit better? Yes, but overall we are pretty close. This is a phenomenal place. There is a lot of grip, and the track is very smooth just as we left it last year. It should be a great race this weekend.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “We’re a bit lost with the set up. I thought the car was pretty close this morning and that the car just needed a couple of tweaks. We found what we thought was going to be the solution to our issue and applied it for the afternoon session, but we ended up going backwards. We’re fighting the car in the quick corners and understeer in the slow corners. It’s not a happy recipe right now, just very difficult. We’ll keep at it and see what we can do. That said, it feels good to be out there, for sure, but we’re all competitors and being in the car just doesn’t do it. You want to be in the car and feel good and be fighting at the front.”
Ed Jones: “We had a decent morning and then we made some changes to try and improve the car for the afternoon, but it didn’t work at all. So we struggled a lot in the second session. We have a lot of work to do for tomorrow. Nothing felt right, but we’ll work on it and hopefully tomorrow will be much better.”
Spencer Pigot: “We had a pretty good session this morning, but seemed to struggle a little bit this afternoon. I thought we made some improvements in the first session and while we tried a couple of different things this afternoon, it didn’t work out the way we had planned. Hopefully we can go back and get the same kind of feeling we had from the car this morning.”
JR Hildebrand: “I really enjoy Watkins Glen. I’m definitely hopeful we can be quick here because I like the place a lot. It was a weird couple of sessions for us today. We’ve got a couple of things going on with the car that we’re having a hard time explaining right now. We’re going to work to get to the bottom of it and get a better feel for what we need to be doing and address how to go quicker tomorrow. That’s pretty much our main goal. We’ll do a little bit of problem solving tonight and we’ll see where we can pick up some time.”
Takuma Sato: “It was a productive day. We had a good test here about a month ago, but the conditions today were quite different – I guess that is due to the change in wind direction. I was quite surprised at how different (the car) acted and we had to catch a lot of balance to correct it. In the end, the car was better, not the best though. We still have a lot of work to do before tomorrow to find the speed, but it was a positive direction. Hopefully tomorrow morning is better.”
Marco Andretti: “We had a pretty decent start to the day and showed some competitive speeds in the first practice. Everything was going good in Practice 2, then about midway through we lost balance in the rear in a big way. Not having rear grip really hurt my pace. We went from running decent to running bad. We need to get the rear grip back and hopefully it will help.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Following a really good test here, we’re scratching our heads in a few areas because I was really happy with the DHL car a few weeks ago. Hopefully we’ll find it tonight when we put our heads together and hopefully roll out with a better car tomorrow. With all that said, we’re not that far off – we’re within in reach, we just need to make the necessary changes.”
Charlie Kimball: “This afternoon was a nice recovery after the morning session. We had an electrical issue that kept us from running during the first practice, but the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys did a great job getting it all fixed up and tuned up. We were able to get a few good laps in this afternoon. I’m pretty happy to be inside the top 10, but obviously tomorrow we’ll be aiming higher for the Firestone Fast Six. We need to make the car a little bit better, handling-wise and setup-wise, but I think we’ve got a good direction heading into tomorrow’s sessions.”
Alexander Rossi: “It was a pretty good Friday. I think we’re pretty competitive up to third, but the top two guys are a bit ahead of us. It’s the normal culprits on high-commitment road courses, so we’ll work overnight. There’s a bit of room in the car that I think we know where it is to improve. Overall, we’re feeling confident in the NAPA Auto Parts car this weekend.”