WASHINGTON: New Zealand’s Scott Dixon earned his fifth Indianapolis 500 pole position in sensational style on Sunday, clocking the second-fastest four-lap qualifying run ever at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Dixon topped the final Fast Six section of qualifying with a four-lap run that averaged 234.046 (376.66 Km/h) — featuring two laps of the 2.5-mile oval at more than 234 mph.
Dixon put his Honda-powered Chip Ganassi team car on pole for the second straight year, but with just one victory, in 2008, to show for his prior four pole positions the Kiwi veteran was already looking ahead to next Sunday’s 106th running of the fabled race.
“Obviously, it doesn’t mean a thing next Sunday,” he said. “So we’re starting in the right spot. We havent’ had a good record keeping it in the right spot but we’ll definitely be trying come next Sunday.”
Despite that pragmatic stance, Dixon was clearly exhilarated by the day’s activities, which featured the fastest 12 finishers in Saturday’s opening qualifying competing in Top 12 qualifying and the top six from that coming back to set pole position and the first two rows of the grid.
With the final Fast Six run, Dixon pushed Ganassi teammate Alex Palou of Spain (233.499 mph) into second on the grid.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Dutch driver Rinus Veekay claimed the third spot on the first row with a run at 233.385 mph.
Team chief and sometime driver Ed Carpenter (233.080 mph) claimed the fourth spot ahead of Swedish Ganassi driver Marcus Ericsson (232.764), and Ganassi’s Brazilian veteran Tony Kanaan (232.372).
“That’s what this place is about,” Dixon said. “So amazing — the ups and downs that you have just in one day — it’s crazy. Just so happy for everybody to get five of our cars into the fast 12 and then four into the Six. I hope Chip’s got a smile on his face.”
Dixon’s pole position time was the second-fastest four-lap qualifying run ever behind the 236.986 posted by Arie Luyendyk back in 1996.
It was actually the fastest ever run to claim pole, breaking Scott Brayton’s mark of 233.718 from 1996.
VeeKay had moved into second on the all-time qualifying chart behind Luyendyk on Saturday with a run at 233.655, but the 21-year-old settled for second-fastest behind Dixon in the Top-12 session before coming up third-quickest in the final shootout.
When the day’s action was complete, Mexico’s Pato O’Ward led the third row of the grid alongside Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist and France’s Romain Grosjean.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato of Japan, former champion Will Power of Australia and NASCAR great Jimmie Johnson, an Indy 500 rookie, made up row four.
The remaining 13th-33rd spots on the grid had been set on Saturday.
Reigning Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves — one of just four four-time winners — starts from the 27th spot on the ninth row.
Johnson enlivened Sunday’s qualifiers with a big wobble on his Top-12 run that ended his hopes of making the Fast Six.
“These guys are so good at what they do,” said Johnson, who moved into IndyCar racing last year but didn’t opt to tackle the oval tracks until this season. “I just need more experience.”
Grosjean, who moved to IndyCar last season after his Formula One career ended with a frightening fiery crash, is also a newcomer to the Indianapolis 500.
He admitted that he’d found oval racing more “complicated” than he anticipated. And at the speeds reached at Indianapolis, with the wind changing and track surface temperature fluctuating this weekend, Grosjean said Sunday “was scary.”
“Track conditions changed a lot from the morning,” he said. “We tried everything we had to get some speed ... I’m glad it’s behind me.”