IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from the Grand Prix at the Glen 2017

The Big Picture:  The Verizon IndyCar Series and Watkins Glen International have a kind of understudy relationship with one another. Back in 1979, the series began to race at the iconic road course. By 1981, Formula One was turning its nose up at the Glen due to low attendance. So, IndyCar stepped in and filled F1’s traditional October date. In 2016, Boston was yet another US city who thought starting a street race would be easy. Upon the Boston contest circling the drain when instant riches were not forthcoming, Watkins Glen stepped in on a moment’s notice to return to the IndyCar schedule on Labor Day weekend.

Event:  And so the Grand Prix at the Glen was reborn. Of course, drivers love the natural terrain road course spanning 3.377 miles in length. It has the famed bus stop and the boot to make it unique in North America, and maybe the world. The series regularly fills the grandstands, but is also perceived to have “low attendance.”

Qualifying:  Alexander Rossi took his first series pole of his career with Scott Dixon starting next to him on Row One. Andretti Autosport had the best set up with Honda having the advantage on this track.

 Race:   As with most road course competitions, a great deal of this contest was decided in qualifying. The first and second place qualifiers also finished that way in the race. The third and fourth place starters were unable to continue this as Newgarden choked on a pit exit and Sato had a spin that threw him way down the leader board.

Biggest Surprise:  When Rossi was able to recover the race lead by Lap 29 after he had a fuel probe issue. Great recovery.

Biggest Disappointment:  The bad call made by Team Penske to go with a wet set up when the rain was over.

Best Team:  Andretti Autosports because they took the pole, the win, and the final spot on the podium and the Penskes didn’t.

Sponsor of the Weekend:  NAPA is good to motorsports. They just re-signed Rossi, and he delivered a win within days.

What We Learned:  That even Team Penske can make bad calls on set up. That Scott Dixon must be setting record for finishing second in so many races this year, and this may win him the championship

Schedule:  The season finale is in Sonoma, on September 17th!

Quotes of the Weekend:

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “The Hitachi Chevy was so awesome today, and it was a great job by the No. 3 car guys. We were really fast out there – it’s been a long time since I was able to go flat out through the carousel in the race, but we were doing that today. We had some issues on the black Firestone tires, but we were able to recover and really pushed hard there to finish fourth. I feel really bad for Josef (Newgarden) with his incident. It’s unfortunate for the team, but it’s mixed feelings for me because it tightens up the championship. We definitely have a good chance heading into Sonoma and I feel really good about our setup there. We’ll be ready to go for it and finish strong.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “It was definitely an exciting day for the No. 9 NTT Data car. I locked up the tires on the first stop and I don’t think we got any fuel. We had to save fuel on the next stint as a result and battled our way back. I think we passed a lot of cars today and it was fun to contend with (Alexander) Rossi there for the win. Big congrats to him and good to see Honda run strong at Watkins Glen.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “We made a good start. Coming up to the hill P2, we were all set very nicely and I felt, basically, no power. We tried to figure out what was going on. I tried to reset the car on the track, it failed. Everything went zero. We pitted, then came back a few laps down and found a waste gate problem. After that, we were back up to speed, but I think at the time we were three laps down. Nothing we could do, but at the end of the day, we had one of the fastest laps. Big congrats to my teammate Alex (Rossi) for his win on the road course and to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) for getting a strong showing. It’s a shame, but as a team, I think we showed trim in the speed so that was a good weekend.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda): “An amazing job by the whole team today. We had an issue in the beginning with some fuel, the fuel (probe), but whatever. It doesn’t matter, the team recovered. We had the pace to do it, but it’s pretty amazing. It’s a huge team effort. I’ve talked so much about how much we’ve improved, I’m so happy we’re finally able to win.” (About battle with Scott Dixon at end of race): “We had a fast car. I knew we had a fast car because we were hitting a fuel number before the final stop and we had pace. I knew he was going to be pushing like hell at the end, and so it was really 12 qualifying laps, and I had the car to do it. We had time, we had the pace, the performance, the tire life, everything was going our way. A huge hats off to Andretti Autosport. Thank you to NAPA Auto Parts, thank you to Honda. We’re coming really hard for 2018.”

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By Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.