Unlike in Formula 1, an IndyCar pole to win conversion is rare because pole in IndyCar isn’t as crucial as F1. However former F1 and current Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi achieved that feat on Sunday at Watkins Glen. But it wasn’t easy.
Rossi claimed pole Saturday in last-lap Lewis Hamilton style. The 26-year-old’s first career IndyCar pole. Heading into the race, Rossi was flanked on the front row by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon; who trailed the championship by 31 points.
Rossi led the field cleanly during the first lap, however Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves was charging toward the front from P4. Castroneves would pass Rossi on Lap 2, demoting the pole sitter to P2 for the next 13 laps. Rossi had a early fuel control issue, which limited his fuel intake and forced an early, unscheduled pit stop.
Rossi’s team quickly got the problem solved during the unscheduled stop and just like Will Power at Pocono, Rossi raced to get back to the front. The Californian was quicker than the leaders in the four laps after his fuel control issue cleared and eventually regained the lead around Lap 29 or 60. Rossi would proceed to lead the next 13 laps, conceding position only during his last pit stop as the cars cycled through.
Regaining the lead on Lap 46 during the last caution flag of the day (a pit incident), the pole sitter would hold off Dixon who had cycled back behind in P2 by a mere 0.9514 seconds for the win. Rossi’s first of the year, and second of his career after the 2016 Indianapolis 500.
While Rossi was having an F1-like dream weekend, the championship leader, Josef Newgarden had a nightmarish race. The 25-year-old saw his 31 point advantage narrow to just three, courtesy of some friendly interference. Newgarden had an incident in the pits with Penske team-mate Power when the latter pulled out just in front of him. Newgarden swerved to avoid Power, but in doing so clipped the guard rail and broke hard causing Sebastien Bourdais to hit him from behind. The championship leader continued but with damage to his car; finishing P18.
With the finale in Sonoma in two weeks, currently nine drivers can still win the title. This is due to Sonoma offering double points throughout. 100 points instead of the normal 50 for the winner and so on. With the IndyCar championship coming down to wire and nine drivers still in, don’t miss the finale. September 15-17.
INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Glen Race Notes:
– Rossi’s pole to win conversion was just the third this year after Power in Indianapolis and Graham Rahal in Detroit.
– For a series-by-series comparison of the pole to win rate, the active driver with the most poles in IndyCar, Castroneves, has a conversion rate of 26.8% or 11 of 41, compared to Hamilton in F1 with a conversion rate of 85.5% or 59 of 69.
– In fact, the IndyCar driver with the most wins from pole, Mario Andretti, only has a 35.8% hit rate, 24 of 67.