Alexander Rossi's weekend of great news continued today when he won the qualifying for the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen.
A day after it was announced he would return to Andretti Autosport next season in a multiyear deal, Rossi clocked a dramatic last lap of 1 minute, 22.4639 seconds (147.119 mph) on Watkins Glen International's high-risk, high-reward permanent road course.
It was the fastest lap in the Firestone Fast Six, the third and final round of knockout qualifying, to earn Rossi the first pole position in his 32-race Verizon IndyCar Series career.
"It was a big lap we needed," said Rossi, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner and driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda. "The lap before was pretty good, but they came on the radio and said, 'You need at least a tenth (of a second quicker),' so we went for it.
"It's amazing to finally accomplish this, especially on the back of the announcement on Friday. 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."
Rossi was the last of the Firestone Fast Six drivers on the 3.37-mile, 11-turn circuit at the session's end, crossing the timing line to win the pole as the others were in pit lane. The 25-year-old Californian's best previous qualifying effort was third on two occasions, both on ovals this season at Indianapolis and Texas.
Rossi will lead the 21-car field to the green flag in Sunday's 60-lap race (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). In winning the pole, he denied Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon the chance to edge closer to championship leader Josef Newgarden in the point standings.
Dixon settled for the second starting spot with a lap of 1:22.5168 (147.025 mph) in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda that nipped Newgarden by one ten-thousandth of a second.
"Front row is definitely decent," said Dixon, the four-time series champion and four-time Watkins Glen race winner. "The frustrating part is that we had plenty in hand.
"We caught Helio (Castroneves on track) so quickly. I don't know what he was doing out there, he was just sort of cruising around. We caught him way too fast with two laps to go.
Maybe we should have backed off on the second-to-last lap (to open a gap). I think we had probably another three or four tenths (of a second) in the car. Definitely frustrating to lose it that way."
Regardless, Dixon is the only driver to reach all eight Firestone Fast Six rounds contested this season and has earned a top-five starting position in each of his eight visits to Watkins Glen. Dixon also broke his year-old track record in the second round of qualifying with a lap of 1:22.4171 (147.202 mph).
Newgarden, holding a 31-point lead over Dixon heading into Sunday's race, will start third in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet following a lap of 1:22.5169 (147.024 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six.
"I think I messed up a pole run, to be honest with you," Newgarden said. "I lost two or three tenths (of a second) in the final corner.
"I just deuced it, totally messed it up, lost a couple tenths (in Turn 9). Great lap time, good starting position for us. I feel so silly for messing up what could have been a pole position."
Takuma Sato, Rossi's teammate at Andretti Autosport, qualified fourth in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (1:22.5660, 146.937 mph). Charlie Kimball was fifth in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda (1:22.8081, 146.507 mph), with Castroneves sixth in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:23.3350, 145.581 mph).
Newgarden, Dixon, Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud (who qualified 12th), Will Power (qualified eighth), Graham Rahal (qualified 10th), Rossi and Sato all remain mathematically alive for the championship.
Drivers must be within 104 points of the leader following the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen - with only the double-points GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 17 remaining on the schedule.
1. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:22.4639 (147.119)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:22.5168 (147.025)
3. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:22.5169 (147.024)
4. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:22.5660 (146.937)
5. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:22.8081 (146.507)
6. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:23.3350 (145.581)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:22.9854 (146.194)
8. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:23.0987 (145.995)
9. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:23.1459 (145.912)
10. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:23.2240 (145.775)
11. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:23.2959 (145.649)
12. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:23.2981 (145.646)
13. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:23.4917 (145.308)
14. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:23.5089 (145.278)
15. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:23.9851 (144.454)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:23.6854 (144.972)
17. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:23.9982 (144.432)
18. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:24.1390 (144.190)
19. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:24.2012 (144.083)
20. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:24.1779 (144.123)
21. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:24.4543 (143.652)
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