Expect the unexpected if rain affects Watkins Glen race

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WATKINS GLEN, New York – With rain predicted for today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, fans should expect thrills, surprises and gambles in the expected wet conditions.

Should the race be a rainy affair, it will be the first full wet race for Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on the Watkins Glen International track that has offered loads of grip in dry running since it was repaved a year ago. What the surface will offer in a downpour is anybody's guess.

“It will be interesting,” said four-time champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing, who qualified second in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda.

“It will be probably a lot higher attrition, I think, if it plays out that way. It's a very high-speed track. Definitely have the possibility to make some mistakes more on the wet. But, yeah, I think it would definitely put on a very interesting show, that's for sure.”

INDYCAR GRAND PRIX AT THE GLEN: Race tire designation; Spotter's guide

Running in wet conditions for the first time in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen isn't the only wildcard on the table. Adding more uncertainty into the mix is the fact that the current specification Firestone rain tires have never been used in a race.

“Obviously, Firestone does a great job all these years developing sometimes when things don't go well,” said Helio Castroneves who drives the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

“We going to find out, for sure, but I have no problem in trusting obviously the engineers. It's been quite a long time we maybe just practice in rain, but not racing.”

This morning’s 30-minute warmup did provide limited time in wet but drying conditions. Sebastien Bourdais, who was fastest in the session on the rain tires, isn’t sure if it answered any questions.

“We don’t know the tire, we’ve got no (race) experience here in the rain, so we’ll see,” said Bourdais, driving the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda. “It looked fairly competitive.

“We tried them (rain tires) once before in Barber warmup, I think. But the tire’s going to behave differently at every track, so it’s super difficult to really anticipate what the thing’s going to do, what you want tire pressure-wise. Just a lot of open questions but it’s the same for everybody.”

All the unknowns may allow some drivers to take a risk on car setup, while others play it safe. That means there could be several different strategies at play when the green flag flies around 1:40 p.m. ET this afternoon.

“It's really probably going to be a mixed bag,” said points leader Josef Newgarden (No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet), who starts the race third with a 31-point advantage over Dixon.

“If it looks like it's going to dry out during the race, some guys will run a dry setup, thinking for the long game. Once it dries up, you want to have a dry setup on the car. Other guys might gamble on a full wet. Depends on how everyone views the weather situation.”

With two races to go in the 2017 season, drivers looking to attract attention might see the possibility of changing conditions as a huge opportunity to make a “splash.” A bold move on strategy and hopes that the weather does exactly what they need for their setup could be the winning configuration.

“Being a little further back in the championship standings, I don't have a lot to lose points-wise,” said No. 83 Tresiba Honda driver Charlie Kimball. “But as far as the forecast, I think you could flip a coin and get as much accuracy as a lot of the forecasts out there.”

Starting at the front is always an advantage in a rainy race. It makes Alexander Rossi's maiden Verizon IndyCar Series pole position collected Saturday even more significant.

He also had a bit of a warning for his rivals.

“My last pole was 2015 in Monaco in the wet,” said the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda driver, referring to when he raced in GP2 in 2015. “So I love the wet. I would be really jacked if it rained tomorrow. Bring it on.”

INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen fast facts:

Race 16 of 17 in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season

Track: Watkins Glen International, an 11-turn, 3.37 mile permanent road course in Watkins Glen, New York; today’s race will be the 11th for Indy cars on the circuit, with past races from 1979-81, 2005-10 and 2016

Race distance: 60 laps/202.2 miles

Fuel: 75 gallons of Sunoco E85 ethanol

Fuel stint: 14-17 laps

Telecast: 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network

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