WATKINS GLEN – Scott Dixon turned Watkins Glen International into his personal playground this past weekend, dominating all Verizon IndyCar Series on-track activity. He cruised to his fourth Watkins Glen career IndyCar Series victory in Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen.
Dixon came into this weekend a career three-time winner at The Glen, emerging victorious at the Finger Lakes-area road course in 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Dixon confirmed that this was one of the most dominating weekends he has enjoyed in his long IndyCar Series career.
“It’s probably close to it for a road course,” said Dixon. “I know we’ve had dominant weekends like this on ovals. Kansas rings a bell back in the day. I think here to lead all three practices, the warm-up, qualifying on the pole and win the race – it was dominant. Of course when you are dominating a weekend your mind does think about what could go wrong.”
The other big winner Sunday was IndyCar Series point leader Simon Pagenaud. That driver came to the Glen sporting a 28-point advantage over Will Power. Pagenaud finished seventh while Power was a victim of an accident, finishing 20th.
Pagenaud now leads Power by 43 points heading into the IndyCar Series double-points finale Sept. 18 in Sonoma, Calf.
Coming into Sunday’s 60-lap joust, Dixon had topped the timesheets in all three weekend pre-race practice sessions before capturing his first career Watkins Glen pole in Saturday’s qualifying at a track record of 1:22.53. That smashed Ryan Briscoe’s 2009 effort of 1:28.14. Dixon was far from done with his Glen magic.
On the drop of initial green flag Sunday, Dixon grabbed the lead over Power and Pagenaud. Dixon moved out to a five-second lead 10 laps into the race.
Dixon pitted on lap 14, with Power inheriting the lead. Mikhail Aleshin crashed to bring out the caution on lap 15 when his left rear tire exploded. Power, Tony Kanaan, Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves and the rest of the top eight all pitted under that caution as Dixon cycled back to the lead.
When the green flag flew again Dixon maintained a comfortable lead as the yellow waved again on lap 20. Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball had contact with Rahal, careening into the inside Turn One wall. Rahal was uninjured.
When the ensuing green flag unfurled on lap 22, Dixon stayed out front. He moved out to a six-second lead, under green by lap 27. On lap 31, Dixon made his second pit stop handing the top spot to Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya pitted a lap later as James Hinchcliffe assumed the lead.
After Hinchcliffe pitted on lap 34, Castroneves moved to the front ahead of Dixon who was again cycling back toward the front. Dixon found his way back to the top spot when Castroneves headed pit side for service on lap 36. Dixon next built a 14-second lead over Montoya.
On lap 39, Power, while running 14th, had a big accident when Kimball ran into Power forcing Power into the outside wall at the top of the Esses, ending Powers’ day. Following the accident Power was undergoing concussion protocol procedures. Under the resulting caution all top cars pitted on lap 41.
Following that round of pit stops, Dixon restarted fourth and moved forward passing leader Carlos Munoz in the exit of the Esses on lap 44 to continue his stranglehold on the race field. Dixon took it the distance from there winning by 16 seconds over Josef Newgarden and Castroneves.
Dixon led 50 of the 60 laps. Sunday’s win was the 40th overall of Dixon’s long IndyCar Series career.
Watkins Glen president and Hamburg native Michael Printup enjoyed the IndyCar activity here this weekend. Sunday, Printup reflected on the fact that just three months ago, The Glen was not part of the 2016 IndyCar schedule and had not been since 2010.
That all changed literally overnight when the scheduled race in Boston, set for this weekend, was cancelled and Printup negotiated a fast deal in May with IndyCar president of competition and operations Jay Frye for The Glen to replace Boston on the schedule. It’s been a challenge for both parties to promote such a large event in such a short three-month time window.
“This weekend’s going too fast,” said Printup. “I wish I could enjoy it a little bit more because I love IndyCar. Everyone’s been absolutely awesome and it’s been a very nostalgic weekend for me having IndyCar here.
“I was walking in the paddock and reflecting Saturday and up comes Juan Montoya and I’m thinking I’m walking the track and shooting the breeze with Juan Montoya. This is pretty neat. Scott Dixon broke the track record. I’ll use the term that it’s just so historic to have IndyCar back here.”
Frye has been IndyCar’s president of competition and operations since November 2015.
Indy-type cars in general ran at Watkins Glen from 1979-81 and then 2005-2010. Printup, who has been president here since 2009, could not come to terms with former IndyCar management for a contract after 2010. That changed when Printup and Frye got involved in negotiations this past May following the Boston cancellation.
Two weeks ago, Printup and IndyCar further announced that they have extended the current race weekend contract for at least the next two seasons.
“For any race you need at least a year to promote,” said Printup. “Anything less then that is a disservice to everyone. Three months is a short window especially when we had IMSA coming 30 days after we made our agreement with IndyCar. Then we had the Finger Lakes Wine Festival 45 days after that and then NASCAR 60 days after and then 90 days later we have this weekend so there was a lot of noise in the system.
“Nobody will be disappointed by the attendance here this weekend. Sure, we want what the new race this year at Elkhart Lake (Road America) did but they had over a year to do it. Road America reported they had over 100,000 earlier this year for their weekend. We have about 40,000 here this weekend and IndyCar spent a lot of money and we’ve spent a lot of money but that’s what you’ve got to do to promote. Jay and I have a lot of drive to keep IndyCar here.”