INDIANAPOLIS – In a week where no single driver or team had established itself as a favorite for the pole, Scott Dixon decided it was time to deliver.
The four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner delivered with speeds that had not been seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 21 years. He stunned the crowd – and the field – with a four-lap average of 232.164 mph in his No. 9 Honda.
His first qualification lap of 232.595 mph was the fastest qualifying lap since Arie Luyendyk set the one-lap record of 237.498 mph on May 12, 1996.
Dixon is the fastest Indianapolis 500 pole winner since Scott Brayton in 1996 and his four-lap average of 232.164 mph was the fastest qualifying average since Luyendyk set the track record in 1996.
“I thought maybe the dash had broken on the steering wheel and brought up a fake number,” Dixon said. “We seriously don’t think we expected to see the speed that we did. The whole pre-lineup for qualifying was debating with Chris Simmons, my engineer, on, we trimmed too much, we trimmed too much, and I was basically talking myself out of it and seeing if he could maybe put some for downforce in the car. And Chris was like, man, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be fine.
“When I saw that first number, I was like, wow, this is impressive, so obviously a huge thanks to Honda, too. They’ve been pushing extremely hard, I think, with the engine. They’re definitely pushing it to the limit.”
Luyendyk’s records came on the second-day of the old four-day qualification format because his Pole Day Speed that year was disqualified when his car was seven pounds underweight in post qualification technical inspection.
Dixon’s speed in the Fast Nine was stunning and the only drama left was to see if the final racer left of the nine drivers that fought it out for the pole could top that mark. That was two-time Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter, but his four-lap average was 231.664 mph and that allowed Dixon to celebrate the Indianapolis 500 pole for the third time in his career.
He won the pole in 2008 and went on to win the race. His second Indianapolis 500 pole was in 2015 and after leading much of that race, a Cheetos wrapper got caught in his radiator inlet late in the race causing his engine to go into safe mode to keep from overheating. He went on to finish fourth in that race after leading 84 laps in the 200-lap contest.
Dixon is hopeful his path to a second career Indianapolis 500 win starts with the pole on Sunday, but no polesitter has won the Indianapolis 500 since the Dallara DW012 chassis made its debut in the 2012 season.
“It’s definitely the goal,” Dixon said. “The last time we were on the pole in ’15 we had a really fast car. I think we led over half the race and ultimately, we overheated the car on the last stint and had to wind up taking a top five.
“Indianapolis is always about two big hills throughout the weeks, and you’ve got the pole first, the fact that the pole preparation of the race car, and then into the race. This is the first step of it, but now our focus is obviously quickly transferred to tomorrow. We’ve got another four hours of track time and trying to make the No. 9 car as fast as possible.
“Today was fantastic to get the pole, but emphasis is on the 500. You know, it’s cool obviously getting the pole with NTT DATA and the No. 9 car, and hopefully in the next few days here, we’ll be announcing the Camping World car, so looking forward to that, as well.”
Dixon was the seventh driver in the Fast Nine to make his qualification attempt. At that time, 100th Indianapolis 500 winning driver Alexander Rossi was on the pole after he ran a four-lap average of 231.487 mph.
Dixon’s speed knocked Rossi off the pole and delivered a big-time message to Carpenter – the last driver to make a qualification attempt after he was Saturday’s fast driver.
Nobody saw Dixon’s speed coming.
“No, I did not,” Carpenter admitted. “I was surprised by some numbers yesterday when he did that 232 and I was in the car. It actually kind of made some of the pressure go away because I was like, ‘Well, I’ll be way more shocked than I was yesterday if we run that fast for that many laps.’
“Obviously wanted to be on the front row and was going to go give it everything I had, and I think we accomplished that. I don’t know that we could have gotten much more out of it today in those conditions, but proud of the effort from the whole team, to have the top two qualified Chevrolets, car in the first row, car in the second row. I’m proud of that accomplishment for the team.
“I’ve won poles before, but it’s great to be on the front row. I’m really excited that the weather looks good tomorrow and we can continue making our car better for next Sunday.”