Friday, July 4, 2008

Watkins Glen Preview


The Watkins Glen course, as its currently configured, was established in 1956 and hosted the Formula 1 US Grand Prix from 1961 through 1980. American Open Wheel Racing began at The Glen when they expanded the track to include the boot section in 1971. CART ran its last race at The Glen in 1981 when the track went bankrupt and open-wheel grand prix racing didn't return until 2005 when the IRL ran one of its first road course events there. Scott Dixon won that first race, ...and the second, and the third! Perhaps they should rename the track Dixon's Glen? You can read more about the history of this fantastic track at the official site for Watkins Glen. They have a great essay summarizing the history of the venue.
Track schematic for the Watkins Glen Grand Prix course.

Last Year

Helio Castroneves took the pole with a track record time of 1:29.1919 and lead the opening laps of the race, but Dixon's menacing presence right behind him perhaps contributed to his mistake coming out of T11. The back end stepped out on Helio and he was out of the race.
Dixon took over the lead and never really gave it up. Sure others just as Wheldon and Meira lead the race for a few laps as everyone cycled through the pits, but no one had anything for Dixon and he cruised to his third straight win at Watkins Glen, a feat matched only by the great Graham Hill in the 1963, 1964, and 1965 USGPs. This feat was overshadowed a bit by the post-race pit brawl as a heated discussion between Sam Hornish Jr. and Tony Kannan grew out of hand and devolved into fisticuffs between Sam Hornish Sr. and one of AGRs staffers.

Practice Sessions

Friday, Session 1

The first practice session was delayed a bit due to a bit of fog and wildlife. Anyone who remembers Christiano da Matta's tragic incident with a deer at Elkhart Lake in 2006 can fully appreciate why they delayed practice. Once the track was cleared, practice commenced with an unsurprising result of both Target Chip Gannasi Racing cars finishing in P1 and P2 followed closely by Tony Kannan and last year's pole winner and track record holder Helio Castroneves. From fifth on down, its really difficult to make any judgements on who has speed and who doesn't as the first practice is usually just a shakedown for many, but KV Racing looked very strong. Oriol Servia had the 5th fastest before spinning at the exit of T10 and just touching the inside wall with his front wing. There was no appreciable damage to the suspention and he should return for the 2nd session. His teammate Will Power also ran strong for a while, even sitting on top of the speed charts for a time, but ended up 9th fastest.

Friday, Session 2

Not even the bugs can get out of Dixon's way!No one is safe around Dixon, not least of all the insectile fauna around Watkins Glen. Scott was blazing fast during the second practice session, but fast as we was, he still couldn't best Helio's track record. He couldn't even shake his nemisis this season as Helio in the last minutes of the session posted a 1:30:2891 time, just 0.0944s behind Dixon. Tomorrow's qualification should make for great viewing! The surprise performer of the session was Bruno Junqueira. Its not surprising because of the driver, but because of the team. Dale Coyne Racing has not been real strong this year, and Bruno has not been shy about expressing his dissatisfaction calling the team a bunch of "club racers". In spite of all that, Bruno was eighth on the speed charts. There's one more practice session before tomorrow's qualifying run, but expect that to be a race setup shake-down. There may be a few of the backmarker teams still working on qualifying setup, but the top teams will have their work already done and be working on race setup.

What to Watch For

This is the first trip back to a twisty track since the street race at St. Petersburg, at least for the all of the competitors, and keep in mind that race was won by the young "Son of Stache" and other new IndyCar Series teams showing strong in the top 10. EJ Viso, Enrique Bernoldi, Oriol Servia, Will Power, and Justin Wilson all made the top 10. Look for these teams to be strong again at The Glen, especially KV Racing with Oriol Servia and Will Power. Both KV drivers performed extremely well in practice and will be top 5 contenders both during qualification and on race day. Lesser speed was shown by the NHL duo of Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson, but as we all know, race day performance isn't always linked to practice performance. Don't be surprised to see both solidly within the top ten if not in the top five. Dixon has owned this track since IndyCars returned in 2005. His name is the only name on the trophy! In practice, both TCGR cars were fast, and it will be a surprise if Dixon doesn't dominate the field again. Recently he's struggled at the short tracks of Iowa and Richmond, but those struggles will likely just be fuel for his drive and determination this weekend. Lets just hope that there's no extracurricular activities this year like we had last year!

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