WATKINS GLEN, New York – It’s time to put up or go home in the pursuit of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
Two races remain, the first this weekend on the historic Watkins Glen International road course that ranks as likely a unanimous favorite among the drivers. The INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen is set for Sunday (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
“I think no one has ever said that Watkins is an ‘un-favorite’ track – we all love it!” said Takuma Sato, the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda driver who, sitting eighth in points, is lowest among those in the standings with a mathematical reality of securing the championship, $1 million prize and presentation of the Astor Cup in two weeks.
“This awesome track has a beautiful series of flowing, high-speed corners with great elevation changes, and overtaking is very possible,” Sato added. “It’s just a fantastic road course.”
INDYCAR GRAND PRIX AT THE GLEN: Entry list
Drivers came to love the 11-turn, 3.37-mile circuit even more when it was repaved last year prior to the Verizon IndyCar Series’ return to the Glen for the first time since 2010. Scott Dixon set a sizzling track record of 147.008 mph in qualifying before a dominating race performance in which he led 50 of 60 laps to win.
Dixon, driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda, is no stranger to success at Watkins Glen. The Chip Ganassi Racing veteran has won four of the seven races at the track in the modern era that began in 2005. The 37-year-old New Zealander is second to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in the championship heading into this weekend, 31 points behind.
“We’ve had some success at Watkins Glen over the years and it’s been one of the better tracks for the No. 9 team historically,” Dixon said in typical understated form. “The goal is to do what we did last year, both starting and finishing strong. We’re in striking distance with two races to go in the championship, including the double-points race in the Sonoma finale, so we need to be fast out of the gates this Friday.”
Dixon must feel like a man on an island when it comes to the standings. Surrounding him in the rest of the top five are the quartet from Team Penske: leader Newgarden, third-place Helio Castroneves, fourth-place Simon Pagenaud and fifth-place Will Power. Only Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Sato also still have a shot – albeit long – at the title.
“We know that as we get closer to Sonoma, the competition will be working hard to bring their best car just like us,” said Newgarden, seeking a first championship in his six-year career but in his first season with the Penske juggernaut. “It’s exciting to have my teammates also battling for the championship, too, so it just makes it even more of a challenge – but we are ready for it.”
Dixon and the four Andretti Autosport drivers were the only ones to participate in a recent team test at Watkins Glen. Rossi, who has top-six finishes in the past four races this season and boasts nine top-10 showings already this season, believes the test will help him stay at the sharp end of the field in the No. 98
"I'm really excited to get to Watkins Glen this weekend,” Rossi said “There has been a lot of lead-up to this race. We tested at the Glen earlier this month and I went to the NASCAR race there to promote our race this weekend. It is one of my favorite road courses in the world and I hope that we can have a strong race to continue the momentum we have built in the second half of this year."
The weekend schedule calls for two practices on Friday and a third Saturday ahead of Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. ET, live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com; delayed telecast at 7 p.m. on NBSCN). Following a Sunday morning warmup practice, live race coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
The final race of the season is the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, which airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 6:30 p.m. ET Sept. 17. It offers double the usual race points and will likely mark the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series title is decided in the season finale. A driver must be within 104 points or less of the leader following this weekend's race to be in championship contention headed to Sonoma Raceway.
INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen fast facts:
Race 16 of 17 on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule
Track: Watkins Glen International, an 11-turn, 3.37-mile permanent road course in Watkins Glen, New York
Race distance: 60 laps/202.2 miles
Track record: Scott Dixon, 1 minute, 22.5259 seconds, 147.008 mph, set in 2016 qualifying
Firestone tire allotment: seven sets of primary tires, four sets of alternate tires for the weekend
NBCSN telecast information: Qualifying airs on same-day delay at 7 p.m. ET Saturday; race airs live at 1 p.m. Sunday
Ticket information: theglen.com