Sunday, September 3, 2017

Morning Warm-Up: Watkins Glen 2017

Can Alexander Rossi turn his first career pole position into his second career victory?
Alexander Rossi picked up his first career IndyCar pole position at Watkins Glen. The American ran a lap of 82.4639 seconds, 147.119 MPH, in the final round of qualifying to take the pole position. This is Andretti Autosports' third pole position of the season and the team has taken a pole position on a street course, oval and road course this season. Rossi's pole position is the first for a Honda on a permanent road course since Dario Franchitti started on pole position at Sonoma in 2013. This is Rossi's first pole position since the 2015 Monaco feature race in GP2. He finished second in that race to Stoffel Vandoorne. He won from his second-most recent pole position, which came in the 2013 GP2 feature race from the Yas Marina Circuit. Defending Watkins Glen race winner Scott Dixon joins Rossi on the front row. Dixon was 0.0529 seconds off Rossi but Dixon did run break the track record with a lap of 82.4171 seconds, 147.202 MPH in the second round of qualifying. This is Dixon's seventh time qualifying on one of the first two rows in eight Watkins Glen appearances.

Josef Newgarden missed out on the front row by one-ten thousandth of a second. Despite starting third, this is the first time this season Newgarden has been the top Team Penske qualifier. Newgarden leads Dixon by 31 points in the championship entering today's race. This is the first permanent road course race not to feature a Penske car on the front row since the 2014 Mid-Ohio race. Takuma Sato makes it two Andretti Autosport cars and three Hondas in the top four. A car starting on one of the first two rows has every IndyCar race at Watkins Glen. Sato won from fourth on the grid in this year's Indianapolis 500. Charlie Kimball qualified fifth in his first Firestone Fast Six appearance of the season. Kimball's only career victory came from fifth on the grid at Mid-Ohio in 2013 and Kimball has finished in the top ten all four times he has started fifth. Hélio Castroneves joins Kimball on row three. Castroneves has six consecutive top ten finishes. This will be the 23rd time Castroneves has started sixth in his career. Castroneves has been running at the finish in every race he has started sixth and he has finished on the lead lap in 20 of 22 starts from sixth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay missed on the Fast Six by 0.0032 seconds and he will start seventh. This is Hunter-Reay's best start at Watkins Glen since he won from third in the 2008 race. Will Power joins Hunter-Reay on row four. This is the second time this season Hunter-Reay and Power have shared a row this season. They both started on row six for the first Belle Isle race with Power starting a position ahead of the American. Both drivers are coming off of retirements at Gateway after accidents in turn two. Former Newman/Haas Racing teammates Sébastien Bourdais and Graham Rahal round out the top ten. Bourdais is coming off leading five laps and finishing tenth in his IndyCar return last week. Bourdais won from ninth in the second race of the 2015 Belle Isle doubleheader. This is Rahal's best career starting position at Watkins Glen.

Carlos Muñoz made it to the second round of qualifying for the first time since the season opener at St. Petersburg and like that race Muñoz will start 11th. Next to Muñoz will be Simon Pagenaud. Pagenaud has only advanced to the Fast Six session three times out of a possible eight. Last year, Pagenaud made the Fast Six session eight out of nine times and the lone race he didn't advance to the final round of qualifying was Watkins Glen. Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly make an all-American row seven. This was the fourth time this season Pigot has been the first car to fail to advance from a round one qualifying group. He was the seventh fastest in his first round group at St. Petersburg, Road America and Toronto. Daly missed out advance to the second round of qualifying by 0.067 seconds to his teammate Muñoz.

Ed Jones starts 15th with James Hinchcliffe to his outside in 16th. This is Jones' third consecutive road/street course race starting from 15th position. Jones has failed to finish better than or equal to his starting position in the last five races. After sitting seventh in the championship after the first Belle Isle race, Jones has fallen to 14th. Hinchcliffe had advanced to the second round of qualifying on every occasion prior to Watkins Glen. Hinchcliffe has not finished in the top ten when starting outside the top ten in his last six starts outside the top ten, including four this season. Tony Kanaan will start 17th, his third time starting 17th in the last four race and his worst career starting position at Watkins Glen. Jack Harvey makes his IndyCar road course debut from 18th on the grid. Harvey becomes the third former Schmidt Peterson Indy Lights driver to race for the team in IndyCar this season. Hinchcliffe drive for SPM in Indy Lights in 2009 and Jay Howard, who ran this year's Indianapolis 500 for SPM, won the 2006 Indy Lights title driving for the team.

Max Chilton will roll off from 19th on the grid, his worst starting position since 20th at Long Beach in April. Chilton is trying to avoid retiring from three consecutive races for the first time in his IndyCar career. Marco Andretti rounds out the top twenty. This is Andretti's second consecutive race and third race in the last six in which he has started 20th. Entering this season, Andretti had only started 20th twice prior in his career and both came at Toronto in 2011 and 2014. J.R. Hildebrand starts shotgun on the field. He started 21st for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May and finished 14th that day. Like Chilton, Hildebrand has retired from the last two races.

NBCSN's coverage of the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen begins at 1:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET. The race is scheduled for 60 laps. Rain is likely at some point during this race.