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IndyCar: Watkins Glen Preview

Scott Dixon shown zipping through the famed bus stop at Watkins Glen International. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Scott Dixon shown zipping through the famed bus stop at Watkins Glen International. [Joe Jennings Photo] 

Verizon IndyCar Series Race 16/17
IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen
Watkins Glen International

by Paul Gohde

The storied history of Watkins Glen International follows the path of Wisconsin’s Road America. Public roads were used for racing at both sites in the late 1940’s followed by the construction of permanent circuits in the early/mid 1950’s. The Glen hosted Formula One and Six-Hour sports car races for many years followed by Indy car events in 1979 and NASCAR Cup racing in 1986.

Watkins Glen Facts:  Several variations of today’s 3.37-mile/11-turn course have been utilized over the permanent track’s sixty-plus years, and Sunday’s 60-lap/202.2-mile IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen will use the current configuration that was first introduced in 1981. CART ran here from 1979-’81 as F1 was about to lose its place on the Glen’s schedule. CART left and it wasn’t until 2005 that the IRL reappeared; a run that lasted until 2010. The cancelation of the tentative Boston Grand Prix street race brought a sudden offer to the Glen to host an event on the Labor Day weekend in 2016. The quickly scheduled IndyCar event was popular enough to host another running this season.

Bobby Unser won here in 1979-’80 for Roger Penske and Scott Dixon took the win when open- wheel cars returned last year. Dixon has won four times since 2005 while Team Penske and Ganassi Racing have each won four races of the 10 contested. Dixon holds both the qualifying record (147.008 mph) and the race-winning mark (119.334 mph,1:41.39.85) both set in 2016.

2016 Race:  Pole-winner Dixon dominated IndyCar’s return to the Glen leading 50 of the 60-lap run. He took over for good on lap 44 while conserving fuel and out-lasted Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves as his Target Ganassi Chevrolet won by 16.53 seconds. Only two Penske Chevrolet’s (Castroneves and soon-to-be series’ champion Simon Pagenaud) finished in the top 10. Despite his winning run, Dixon and five others were eliminated from the series’ championship contest with only Sonoma remaining.

2017 So Far: After 15 races Newgarden, who has won four times, holds a 31-point lead over Dixon for the championship; a lead he took first at Mid-Ohio in July. Castroneves (- 42), Pagenaud (- 43) and Power (- 83) trail. Dixon is the only Honda in the first five. Eight drivers remain eligible for the championship including the top-five in points along with Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi and Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. The average point-lead with two races remaining is 20.6 points. Only Rick Mears (1981) has won at the Glen and gone on to win the series’ crown.

The Field: The usual 21 cars are entered as Sebastien Bourdais remains for Dale Coyne in his second race after returning from injuries received in his crash at Indianapolis in May. Englishman Jack Harvey is entered for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, replacing Sebastian Saavedra. Harvey ran in the Indy 500 for Michael Shank/ Andretti Autosport last May.

Notes:

  • Ed Jones has clinched the Verizon Series Rookie of the Year award with two races remaining.
  • Eighteen entered drivers have raced Indy cars at Watkins Glen previously.
  • When the late Justin Wilson won here in 2009 it was the first series’ victory for Dale Coyne’s team in 25 years of Indy car competition.
  • Seventeen of the 22 Glen starters finished on the lead lap last year.
  • The first F1 race at the Glen in 1961 included seven American drivers: Dan Gurney, Walt Hansgen, Masten Gregory, Lloyd Ruby, Jim hall, Hap Sharp and Roger Penske. Gurney finished second in a Porsche.
  • TV: Qualifying-NBCSN-Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (Delayed). Race-Sunday, 1p.m. ET, (Live).

Our Take: The Glen is a world-class road course along with Road America. Team Penske and Ganassi Racing have dominated there and will likely do that again Sunday. After last week’s Tony Kanaan/Max Chilton dust-up with Chip at Gateway, Ganassi seems to be in a bit of disarray and could be a bit off their game. Look for Penske to take advantage, although the controversial pass of Pagenaud by Newgarden at Gateway has caused some ill-feelings between the two there, too. Perhaps Bourdais or Graham Rahal can take advantage and find a win.

The Final Word: Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 UNIF Coyne Honda): “Watkins Glen is a track I’ve done very well at. I was competitive there last year, but I had an interesting day with a spin at the start. I came back surging at the end (finished fifth). Hopefully our car will be like it was at the Indy Road Course and at Mid-Ohio (10th) …It’s a track that’s very physically difficult. It’s very, very high G’s with high speed corners, but it’s (also) very interesting and exhilarating. When you do a good lap there it’s very satisfying.”

 

 

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Paul Gohde
Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950's, Paul had no idea what "that noise" was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked. The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner's autograph in the pits, something he couldn't do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked. Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt's first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark's historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them. He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats. Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, "a factor that got me hooked in the first place."