INDIANAPOLIS (Sunday, May 21, 2017) - Scott Dixon thrilled Indianapolis 500 qualifying fans like they haven't been in more than two decades, capturing the pole position for the 101st Indianapolis 500 with the fastest average speed since 1996.
The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and fourth-winningest driver in Indy car history completed four on-the-edge laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2.5-mile oval at 232.164 mph. The 10-mile run in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the best speed seen at IMS since Arie Luyendyk set the track record of 236.986 mph in second-day qualifying on May 12, 1996.
"It feels fast," Dixon said. "Any speed (above) 215 or 220 around this place feels really fast, but I think you just block it all out. You're constantly just trying to feel how the car is, see where you can place it, see if you can improve the next lap. It's been so intense this weekend just trying to hold on to the car for the four laps. I think that's where all the focus has been.
"But I think for the Verizon IndyCar Series, it's cool to see these speeds gradually creeping up. It's good to see we've made a big improvement. I think I did a 227 average last year, so it's a nice little jump."
It is Dixon's third Indy 500 pole position - he won from the front spot in 2008 - and the 26th of his 17-year Indy car career, moving the 36-year-old New Zealander past Paul Tracy and alone into 11th place on the all-time poles list.
The third-fastest driver in first-day qualifying Saturday, Dixon was the seventh of nine to make an attempt in the Fast Nine Shootout under late-afternoon Indiana sunshine today. His first lap of 232.595 mph was also the fastest official lap recorded at IMS since the 1996 Indy 500 race. Luyendyk still holds the single-lap standard, 237.498 mph, also set during his record qualifying run.
Dixon will start on point for the third-fastest field in Indy 500 history, with a 228.400 mph average. Joining him on the front row are Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet and defending Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda.
In the process of taking the top spot, Dixon ended a string of six straight Verizon IndyCar Series race poles won by Team Penske, dating to the 2016 season finale at Sonoma Raceway. It also marked the 88th pole in Indy car history for Chip Ganassi Racing and its fifth at the Indianapolis 500.
Though qualifying points aren't officially awarded until after the race completion, Dixon has the provisional points lead by 21 over 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud heading into Indy 500 worth double the normal race points.
"Today, we managed to get it done and we're starting in the right place," said Dixon, the 40-time Indy car race winner. "The hard part now is to keep it there."
Carpenter, fastest in first-day qualifying, put together a four-lap run of 231.664 mph to collect his third front-row start in the Indianapolis 500. He was the 2013 and '14 pole sitter.
"That's all she had," Carpenter said. "Would it have been fun to win a third pole? Yes, but at the same time to be in the middle of the front row with two former 500 champions, hopefully I can convert from the front row this time and earn a victory."
Rossi started 11th as an Indy 500 rookie a year ago, fell back midway and won the 200-lap race on a risky fuel strategy. He qualified third at 231.487 mph to secure a career-best start in a Verizon IndyCar Series race - his previous best was fifth earlier this season at Long Beach - and the first front-row start of his Indy car career.
"You're always disappointed if you're not in front, but I think it's a good effort from the team," Rossi said. "Seeing Scott's speed is pretty impressive; I know we couldn't have done that. We've got to be content with the front row."
Rossi was one of four Andretti Autosport entries to compete in the Fast Nine Shootout. Teammates Takuma Sato (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda) and Fernando Alonso (No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda) earned the fourth and fifth starting positions, respectively, with Marco Andretti (No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda) qualifying eighth.
Alonso had the most eventful day of the Andretti drivers. His car underwent a lightning-quick engine change following the pre-qualifying practice session, but it didn't unnerve the two-time Formula One champion making his Verizon IndyCar Series and oval track debut. The 35-year-old Spaniard was the first of the Fast Nine drivers to surpass 231 mph with a four-lap average at 231.300.
"The practice felt good on the car and then we spotted some issues with the engine," Alonso explained. "At one point in the morning, we didn't know if we were able to run in qualifying because we had to change the whole engine. But the team was amazing. They were guys from all six (Andretti) teams working on car (No.) 29 just to make it possible, so thanks to all that teamwork, I was able to go for qualifying."
Rounding out the top nine qualifiers were JR Hildebrand (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Chevrolet) in sixth, 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) seventh and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) ninth.
Andretti Autosport landed a fifth driver in the top 10 when 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay led Group 1 qualifying to determine race starting positions 10 through 33. The driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda ran four laps at 231.442 mph, which would have been good enough for fourth had it come in the Fast Nine Shootout. As it stands, Hunter-Reay will start on the inside of Row 4, with Ed Jones (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda) and Oriol Servia (No. 16 Manitowoc Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) alongside.
Team Penske, with a record 16 Indianapolis 500 wins, struggled in qualifying. Power was slowest in the Fast Nine Shootout and starts on the outside of Row 3. Two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya qualified on the outside of Row 6 and three-time winner Helio Castroneves on the inside of Row 7, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud occupying the inside and middle of Row 8.
Thirty-two cars qualified today. The 33rd position on the grid will be filled by James Davison, named today to replace the injured Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 GEICO Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. Bourdais sustained multiple pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip when he crashed making a qualifying attempt Saturday.
According to Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director, the four-time Indy car champion underwent successful surgery Saturday night at IU Health Methodist Hospital. Bourdais released a statement today.
"I want to thank everybody for the support and the messages," the 38-year-old with 36 career Indy car wins said. "Quite a few drivers have already dropped by. It's going to take time, but I'm feeling pretty good since the surgery. I'll be back at some point. Just don't know when yet."