Alexander Rossi on Pole at Watkins Glen

It has been quite the week for Alexander Rossi.

Rumors swirled about his future after Andretti Autosport was considering making a move to Chevrolet. They decided to stay with Honda, and with NAPA on board, Rossi signed a two-year contract to stay with the team. Today, he earned his first career pole in the Verizon IndyCar Series, with a lap of 1:22.4639 at Watkins Glen.

Scott Dixon has four wins at Watkins Glen, including his dominating performance last year from pole position. He led two of the three practice sessions before qualifying, and will start alongside Rossi on the front row. Josef Newgarden has a 31-point lead over Dixon in the championship standings, and will start third tomorrow. Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball, and Helio Castroneves will all have good starting spots after making the Firestone Fast Six.

Qualification Results for the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen

Team Penske is searching for their sixth straight win this season, but two of their drivers will need to pass quite a few cars on Sunday. Will Power starts in eighth, and Simon Pagenaud will start 12th in tomorrow’s race. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal have been two of the strongest Honda drivers this weekend, but qualified seventh and tenth respectively.

The Honda machines have been quick so far this weekend, but it was a disappointing Saturday for James Hinchcliffe and Tony Kanaan. They qualified 16th and 17th today. Both drivers will be free agents heading into the 2018 season.

Rossi will be leading the field to the green flag tomorrow, but has the main championship players right behind him. Through the 15 races so far this season, the pole sitter has only won the race twice (Power, Rahal). The American has had fantastic results over the last four races, and will look to add to it tomorrow afternoon with a win at Watkins Glen.

The race distance is 60 laps, which is 202.2 miles around the majestic 3.37-mile 11-turn road course. Dixon is the defending race winner, taking the checkered flag after starting from pole position.

Coverage for the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen begins at 1 PM ET on NBC Sports Network.

Photos courtesy of IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Simon Pagenaud: “It’s a little disappointing for sure not to advance to the Firestone Fast Six. We’ve been quick here in the Menards Chevrolet all weekend and I’m not sure exactly why, but we just couldn’t find that same speed in second round qualifying. Starting 12th, I think we’ll have the opportunity to move up quickly tomorrow, and with weather as a factor, you never know what can happen. We’ll be working hard to get the best result we can, for sure.”

Josef Newgarden: “I’m not sure that any of us on the DeVilbiss Chevy team thought we’d be in that fight for the pole, but we certainly were. I think we had the pole car. Unfortunately, I messed it up in Turn 9. I feel awful about that and I’ll beat myself up over it for a bit. I think we’re in a good spot for the race tomorrow, though. If we get the weather everyone is calling for, then I’m not sure that anyone knows the best place to be. You would think it’s at the front, so I hope that’s right.”

Helio Castroneves: “Overall, we’re proud of qualifying in the top six in the Hitachi Chevy. We thought we were looking pretty good making our way through qualifying, and once we got into the Firestone Fast Six we just didn’t have it, especially on the black tires. We know we have a fast car and we are definitely still in the fight there with the other championship contenders. We just need to be smart in the race tomorrow and handle whatever comes our way so we can be there fighting for the win in the end.”

Conor Daly: “It was very close with Carlos (Munoz), which is nice because we’re fighting to be in the top 12, which is good. We just missed it a little bit. I might have just not recognized that we needed the car we had this morning, but we did three laps that were the same; it might have just been a tire pressure thing. Either way when you fight over a small gap like that, I probably could have done something different about it. It’s a shame but Carlos is very good at qualifying, so it’s good to have him as part of our team because it really pushes me to improve my performance in qualifying. We’ve always been better in the race, so we’ll see what happens.”

James Hinchcliffe: “A bit disappointed after qualifying. We’ve kind of been struggling all weekend just to find grip in the car. We’ve made a lot of changes, and unfortunately they haven’t responded the way we were hoping. In qualifying, I actually think we made a big gain from Practice 3 if you look at the relative pace of the guys up front. It still just wasn’t quite enough. To go into qualifying making as many changes as we did, I’m proud of the guys and the effort that we put forward. We didn’t have a great qualifying last year, but we turned it into what was going to be a good race before the last lap there, so we’re down but not out. It’s going to be a long race tomorrow, especially if weather comes into play. We’re going to regroup tonight and try and figure out how to get the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda up front.”

Jack Harvey: “It’s my first weekend (in an Indy car on a road course), and obviously a lot of new things to learn; the red (alternate) Firestones, of course, everybody’s talked about them all year and what a difference they can make. It’s such a high-commitment circuit, and I think, although I’ve never driven here, there are so many things to know, so many things to learn and I just wanted to execute this weekend. I wanted to push as hard I could without risking the car, and I think qualifying, in the end, went pretty well. I didn’t want to be last, and we ticked that off. It’s been a weekend where we have been progressing very well, and getting quicker every session. We just have to keep that going for the race and have a solid finish in the AutoNation Sirius XM car.”

Max Chilton: “I think we may have some sort of issue with the Gallagher car that we haven’t found. I was third quickest yesterday and now we’re two seconds off the pace with a better track, red tires and pushing a lot more. The time is just not in it. I got through to the Firestone Fast Six last year, we were fast here in testing and this weekend in all the practices. I gave it everything I had and more, but we just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. It’s going to be a long night as a team to figure it out, but we’ll dig deep and be ready for tomorrow.”

Scott Dixon: “It’s hard not to be happy with a front-row start here at Watkins Glen in the NTT Data car, but the frustrating part is we had the car, and then some, to get the pole. We caught Helio (Castroneves) so quickly, I’m not exactly sure what happened or what he was thinking. We caught him with, I think, two laps to go, so I’m not sure if we should have backed off sooner or what. I think at the end we had at least another three to four tenths in the car, so we left a lot on the table, for sure, today. So it’s frustrating to lose the pole that way when we had so much more. We just straight up didn’t get the gap the way we needed to and it cost us. We do have a very strong car for tomorrow and I’m ready to go for sure.”

Tony Kanaan: “Obviously we aren’t happy with how the No. 10 NTT Data Honda qualified today. We tried something different on the setup for qualifying and it was just too far in the opposite direction. I think the uncertainty of tomorrow’s weather might make the race more of a toss-up, so hopefully it’ll play into our favor and we’ll be able to work through the field quickly and stay up there.”

Will Power: “I got a little loose out there in some spots and I think it affected my confidence in some others on if it would stick or not. The Verizon Chevrolet really wasn’t as comfortable for me today as yesterday. I don’t know if it’s the wind. I don’t feel like the track changed at all. I can’t really pinpoint it right now. I do know that we’ll all go to work and take a look at everything to get us in a good place for the race tomorrow. The weather looks to be in question and we won’t know the answers to that until we get there. We’ll plan for everything and go from there.”

Carlos Munoz: “I pushed the car 100 percent, maybe lost one tenth because I got some bad shifting on my quickest lap and I think it cost me a position. When everything is so close, everything has to be perfect. I think it’s still a good day. We made some changes for qualifying and it helped a lot. I think tomorrow with all the rain, starting toward the front is better because of all the spray. We’ll see how it goes with the weather. When it’s raining, it’s a lottery race.”

Graham Rahal: “The car has been loose all weekend and we just can’t seem to make any headway. I’m just hanging on. It is what it is and I will just have to go race hard tomorrow. I don’t think we are close enough yet to a good race set up, but we’ll see how it is over the long run.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “The session is not long enough at this track to do a full run on both black (primary) and red (alternate) Firestone tires, so we decided to take the chance and go with the blacks. Yesterday, we didn’t do so well in practice on the reds, and I was happy with the car on blacks, and it paid off as were able to get in the fast 12. Unfortunately, I misled the boys a little bit. I thought we would be better than that balance-wise, but the track picked up grip and we picked up understeer. It’s not because of the tires or anything. I had a pretty good lap just way too much understeer. ”

Ed Jones: “I think we improved the car again. That was the closest we’ve been all weekend. Obviously, it still wasn’t enough. I think we were a step behind. If we had practiced with the car like it was in qualifying, we would have been able to take another step forward and maybe be a bit further up, but it’s not too bad. Starting 15th, we can work from there and move our way up. It might be a wet race tomorrow, so that could make things really interesting.”

Spencer Pigot: “We definitely made a lot of progress in qualifying. We’ve kind of been hovering around an eighth of a second or a second off the pace, so we closed the gap a lot. That was nice, but once again, we came up just a bit shy from advancing. Usually, if you’re within a tenth of Will (Power), you’re right up there at the front. A big thanks to all the guys, Fuzzy’s Vodka, and Chevrolet for letting me do this. It is another midfield starting spot, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

JR Hildebrand: “It’s been kind of a weird weekend. We’ve tried a lot of different things and just can’t get the speed out of the car we’re looking for. It’s frustrating because I really like Watkins Glen and the team finished on the podium here last year, so we were hoping for a bit more. We just can’t manage to get much better lap times out of it. It’s disappointing, but we’ll continue plugging away at it for the rest of the weekend. There should be some fuel saving going on tomorrow, so hopefully that is something that works in our favor.”

Takuma Sato: “We tested here a few weeks ago to learn a different philosophies. It seems to be working well for the team. Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and Marco (Andretti) have been very competitive this weekend and all of us feel very positive. In the end, I want to say congrats to Alexander (Rossi). He did a tremendous job to beat us all. A bit of a shame that we got beaten by a tenth (of a second). The entire Andretti Autosport team worked together and I’m very proud to be a part of it.”

Marco Andretti: “We obviously wanted better out of qualifying today, but I’m struggling in the high-speed corners so the result is on me. The teammates have shown good speeds — and congrats to Alex (Rossi) on his pole, that was a mega lap, but I just haven’t been able to put it together. We’ll look at everything tonight and may have to get creative with strategy tomorrow, and will have to see what the weather brings. We’re starting P20 so we’re down, but we’re not out.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Just two-hundredths of a second would have put us fifth – two hundredths of a second. It just shows how tight this series is. You always have to get the max out of every corner. We were just on the wrong side of it today. That was really close – really we wanted be in that Firestone Fast Six so we could continue to improve the DHL car. We’ll have to go get them tomorrow – we can do that from seventh.”

Charlie Kimball: “We had some electrical issues with the engine yesterday that put us a little behind in terms of getting up to speed out there, so I think it says a lot that we were able to come back out today and qualify in the (Firestone Fast Six). The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys did a great job getting the No. 83 fixed before final practice yesterday and then gave me a really good car to go out and qualify today. I’m definitely happy with our run. I think anytime you can finish within a few tenths of a second of Scott Dixon at Watkins Glen, you know you’re doing well. I have a lot of faith in our race car and hopefully we can move forward in the field like we did last year when we came from 14th to sixth and get our first win of the season.”

Alexander Rossi: “It was a big lap we needed. The lap before was pretty good, but they came on the radio and said, ‘You need at least a tenth.’ So, we went for it, dug deep and the NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Honda has been so good since we rolled off. We’ve never been lower than fifth. It’s amazing to finally accomplish this, especially on the back of the announcement on Friday and I think it’s been a long time coming, so it’s just nice to finally get that. The whole team has been working so hard and they deserve this. This championship, there’s so much that can go on. With weather coming, that adds another variable, but we’re clicking at a level that we haven’t in the past and the momentum is on our side. We just have to capitalize and enjoy this for the next 30 minutes, then focus on the work we have to do tomorrow.”

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