Scott Dixon, PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda’s # 9 driver, stands on the grid before the 104th Indianapolis 500. Photo / Getty Images.
Qualification didn’t pan out for IndyCar series leader Scott Dixon in the final race of the season, but the big picture still looks good as the Kiwi are chasing a sixth title.
Kiwi Dixon qualifies for 11th, while Kiwi Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin is 21st in field 24, for Monday morning’s Firestone Grand Prix in Florida.
Most importantly, the man chasing Dixon, American Josef Newgarden, also had a bad qualifying day, finishing in eighth.
That means that even if Newgarden wins the 100-lap race on the streets of St Petersburg, Dixon will still claim the title if he finishes ninth or better.
There will be a lot of attention on Kiwi star McLaughlin, who is rushing to America to join IndyCar after claiming his third consecutive Supercar title in Australia.
He was fast at first in training but after returning to qualifying said: “I’m disappointed in myself, but that’s how it is.
“I’m pushing out and trying to find boundaries in the fast forward movement. We’ll just come back and try tomorrow.”
Meanwhile Dixon has seen his 117-point draw lead reduced to 32 but he is well-liked to win the IndyCar title, and even more so after Newgarden has dropped an additional lead position point.
“Josef from 8 … it must have helped us a lot. If they don’t make the top three, we don’t have to do anything,” said Dixon.
Newgarden is frustrated with himself and his car.
“It makes our program a little more difficult for tomorrow but we will still try to win,” he said.
“We can win (titles), we just make it difficult for ourselves.”
Australian Will Power won 62nd pole position – five short of Mario Andretti’s record – for the 14th and final race of the season.
The 14-round temporary course, which covers part of the airport runway, will have up to 20,000 spectators. They are required to wear masks and social distancing, and will be checked for temperature, because of Covid-19.
Racing was postponed and apparently canceled at the start of the year, and Dixon said reaching the IndyCar finish line was a “big win” during the pandemic.
“This is a strange year, a year I will definitely never forget, no one else will actually do it,” he said.
“There will be prominent moments that you will contemplate like walking out of the Petrol Alley on race day and not seeing anyone. Polarization of what is normal.
“We must be grateful for the situation we are in.”