Photo: Chris Owens
The penultimate round of the 2016 championship started with Scott Dixon (#9 Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevy) on the pole, followed by Will Power (#12 Team Penske, Chevy), Sebastien Bourdais (#11 KVSH Racing, Chevy, and the all-time road course winner) and Helio Castroneves (#3 Penske). Jack Hawksworth (#41 AJ Foyt Racing) was the highest qualifying Honda at P9.
The race was IndyCar’s first at Watkins Glen since 2010, a late addition to the schedule when road race in Boston fell through.
Championship leader Simon Pagenaud (#22 Penske) moved from eighth to third through the first series of turns, running behind Dixon in the lead and Power (his closest rival for the title) in second. Tony Kanaan (#10 Ganassi) challenged Pagenaud hard for the third in the early laps.
Kanaan took third from Pagenaud during Lap 14 (of 60). Dixon led Power by 6.5 sec and pitted the next lap. Mikhail Aleshin crashed later in Lap 15 as his tire exploded, bringing out a full-course caution. Power, Kanaan, and Pagenaud ran 1-3 under the caution. All pitted. Kanaan left the pits first, followed by Pagenaud and Power.
Dixon led rookie Max Chilton (#8 Ganassi) and Juan Pablo Montoya (#2 Penske) when green-flag racing resumed, the previous leaders running 12-14. Another caution came out during Lap 20, the first under green, when Graham Rahal crashed out following contact with Charlie Kimball.
The green flag flew to start Lap 24. Montoya took second from Chilton during Lap 29, running more than 7 sec behind Dixon. Dixon’s lead was almost 10 sec when he pitted during Lap 32. Montoya and Chilton both pitted one lap later, Montoya staying in front. Helio Castroneves, running an alternate pit strategy, led Dixon and Montoya.
Following Castroneves’s Lap-37 stop, Dixon led Montoya by 14 sec with Josef Newgarden (#21 Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevy) running third.
Dixon led 50 of 60 laps in the end to collect his fourth Watkins Glen win. It was also the 40th victory of the 36-year-old's Indy car career, breaking a tie with legendary Al Unser for fourth on the all-time list.
CLICK HERE: INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi box score
Dixon, the four-time series champion, nursed his final tank of E85 ethanol for 19 laps (64.03 miles) to cross the finish line 16.5308 sec ahead of Newgarden. "I just love being back here," said Dixon, who won three straight at the track from 2005-07. "I think we should have a double-points race here and probably race two or three times (a season) at The Glen. These are the weekends that you definitely don't forget, just in the sheer fact of we had such a smooth one. The car was just fantastic and the track, I love. I love coming to upstate New York and this track is one of the old-school great American tracks that we're lucky enough to come back here and race."
Despite the outcome, Dixon and five other drivers were eliminated from Verizon IndyCar Series championship contention with only the 2016 season finale - the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18 that pays double race points - remaining on the schedule. Team Penske teammates Pagenaud and Power are the two drivers still eligible, with Pagenaud holding a 43-point lead.
Pagenaud finished seventh. Power finished 20th after making contact with Charlie Kimball and crashing into the Turn 5 barrier. Power was examined by the IndyCar medical staff and released from the Watkins Glen care center, but has not been cleared to resume driving pending further evaluation of concussion-like symptoms.
"It was a pretty eventful day," Pagenaud said. "The last caution made it so the guys in front had to save a lot of fuel, and we didn't save enough at the start of the stint and were very slow. We made it back in seventh and, for the championship, the day was very good. We collected a lot of points and we have a bit of a cushion going into Sonoma. We still have to race hard, but it's going to be a lot more comfortable."
Starting from pole position after leading all four practice sessions during the weekend, Dixon - who donated his $40,000 weekend winnings to the Justin Wilson Children's Fund to support the family of the late Indy car driver - was the class of the 22-car field. He built a lead of more than 14 seconds prior to the last of three full-course cautions for the incident with Power and Kimball on Lap 39.
Dixon made his final pit stop on Lap 41 and took the Lap 42 restart in fourth place behind Carlos Munoz, Takuma Sato and Marco Andretti - each electing not to pit under the caution but forced to do so within the next seven laps.
Once back in front, Dixon managed his fuel while others behind made late stops for a splash or ran out altogether. Newgarden also completed the last 19 laps on one tank, overtaking James Hinchcliffe, who ran out of ethanol on the last lap, for second place.
"I think we had a great car in the race," said Newgarden, a podium finisher for the fourth time this season. "Wasn't as good as Scott's; I think he was just clearly ahead of everyone this weekend."
Castroneves finished third, his best performance in seven Watkins Glen races.