Indy 500: Dixon claims pole to deny Young Guns

scott dixon 2021 indy 500 pole

Veteran Indycar driver Scott Dixon saw his team tinkering with his race car but asked no questions and when his three teammates made their Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempts, he didn’t want to hear their feedback.

The six-time IndyCar champion and greatest driver of his generation wanted to be left alone to prepare for his own gutsy run around Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two of IndyCar’s budding young stars sat atop the leaderboard in Sunday qualifying and “The Iceman” was determined to push them aside.

Dixon did just that and slammed the brakes on IndyCar’s current youth movement by claiming his fourth Indianapolis 500 pole by a mere 0.03 seconds, or roughly six feet over the 10-mile qualifying run.

“It was pretty hairy, glad it’s over. It was definitely pretty tense,” Dixon said. “I could see the mechanics working on the car as we rolled through, adjusting the wings. I asked them not to tell me. It’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions for everybody and I’m actually really relieved that that’s all over.”

Dixon was the final driver on the track in the Fast Nine portion of qualifying that sets the first three rows for next Sunday’s race. Chip Ganassi Racing has been consistently strong all week at Indy and all four of its cars were part of the Fast Nine competing for the pole.

The Ganassi group liked its chances and Dixon was comfortable going out last. But then Rinus VeeKay and Ed Carpenter, the only two Chevrolet drivers competing against seven Honda teams in the Fast Nine, posted a pair of monster laps and VeeKay landed a spot on the front row.

Next came Colton Herta, the 21-year-old American who just last week earned a contract extension at Andretti Autosport. Herta held it wide open to bump VeeKay, the 20-year-old Dutchman who last week scored his first career IndyCar win, from the pole.

Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner who also has three runner-up finishes that includes last year’s race, suddenly wished it wasn’t up to him to beat the kids.

“I’d prefer going last, for sure. But then I didn’t after I saw the ECR and Herta runs. I was definitely pretty nervous,” Dixon said. “You’re just trying to stay as calm as possible. For me, I think probably for all of us, the best situation for us is actually just being in the car and doing what we really enjoy, what we love.

“The nerves are all about just that competition level is just through the roof right now.”

Dixon’s average four-lap speed of 231.685 mph knocked Herta to second after Herta’s 231.665 put him on top of the leaderboard for roughly 10 minutes. VeeKay at 231.511 earned the final spot on the front row.

Dixon turns 41 in July — the combined age of the two drivers starting next to him in the Indy 500.

“It’s a whole new generation,” VeeKay said.

Herta, who is rapidly becoming a star in the series, didn’t complain about being bumped by Dixon.

“I just can’t wait for next Sunday, we’ve got a good race car,” Herta said. “Second place is not too bad of a place to start.”

Honda rolled into the Fast Nine qualifying session with seven drivers compared to two for rival Chevrolet. But the Chevy power seems just fine as VeeKay and team owner Carpenter qualified third and fourth and sat atop the leaderboard until Herta and Dixon made the final two runs of the day.

Lining up next to Carpenter on the second row will be Tony Kanaan, at 46 the oldest driver in the field, and Alex Palou. Kanaan and Palou are Dixon’s teammates at Ganassi, as is Marcus Ericsson, who qualified ninth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay for Andretti was seventh and Helio Castroneves eighth for Meyer Shank Racing.

“If I was a fan, I’d be really excited with that Fast Nine qualifying. Guys just kept going faster every single run,” said Herta, who then muttered a curse word when he learned his starting position earned him an 8 a.m. Monday photo shoot for the front-row qualifiers.

The first three rows account for six Indy 500 wins and eight series championships among four drivers — proving veteran experience still matters at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s very weird that the guy starting ahead of me was wearing diapers when I started my first Indy 500,” Kanaan said of VeeKay, who becomes the youngest front-row starter in 105 runnings of the race.

In a 75-minute shootout for the final three spots in the field held right before the Fast Nine session, Sage Karam, Will Power and Simona de Silvestro made the race. Charlie Kimball and R.C. Enerson were knocked from the 33-car field. (Report by Jenna Fryer)

Indy 500 Qualifying Notes & Stats

  • Scott Dixon earned his fourth career Indianapolis 500 pole, tied with Rex Mays, A.J. Foyt and Helio Castroneves for the second-most of all time. Rick Mears holds the record with six poles. Dixon’s previous poles came in 2008, 2015 and 2017. He won the race from the pole in 2008.
  • This is the sixth Indianapolis 500 pole for Chip Ganassi Racing, the second-most of all time. Scott Dixon has won poles for the team in 2008, 2015, 2017 and 2021. Arie Luyendyk won CGR’s first pole, in 1993, and Bruno Junqueira won the pole for the team in 2002.
  • The last time the No. 9 car won the pole was in 2017, with Scott Dixon at the wheel. This is the fifth pole for car No. 9.
  • This is the fastest starting field in Indianapolis 500 history, with an average speed of 230.294. The previous fastest starting field came in 2014, with an average speed of 229.382 mph.
  • This is the third-closest field in Indianapolis 500 history, by time. The gap between pole winner Scott Dixon and slowest qualifier Dalton Kellett is 2.288 seconds. The record is 1.8040 seconds between pole winner Simon Pagenaud and slowest qualifier Kyle Kaiser in 2019. The second-closest gap is 2.1509 seconds, in 2014.
  • Rinus VeeKay is the youngest front-row starter in Indianapolis 500 history. He will be 20 years, 261 days old on Race Day. The previous record was 21 years, 144 days old by Carlos Munoz in 2013.
  • There are nine former Indianapolis 500 winners in the starting field: Juan Pablo Montoya (2000, 2015), Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2009), Scott Dixon (2008), Tony Kanaan (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Alexander Rossi (2016), Takuma Sato (2017, 2020), Will Power (2018) and Simon Pagenaud (2019). Between them, they have 13 victories. The record for most former winners in the field is 10, in 1992. The fewest, other than the inaugural race in 1911, is zero in 1912.
  • There are two rookies in the field. This year’s rookies are Pietro Fittipaldi and Scott McLaughlin. Last year there were five rookies in the race. Fittipaldi is the grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi.
  • In addition to the two rookies in the race, there are five drivers (Sebastien Bourdais, Simona De Silvestro, Ed Jones, Juan Pablo Montoya, Stefan Wilson) who did not start in last year’s race. Bourdais’ last start came in 2019, De Silvestro’s last start came in 2015, Jones’ last start came in 2019, Montoya’s last start came in 2017, and Wilson’s last start came in 2018.
  • Helio Castroneves is the most experienced driver in the field, with 20 previous Indianapolis 500 starts. The record is 35, set in consecutive years from 1958-1992 by A.J. Foyt.
  • Scott Dixon has led 563 career laps in the Indianapolis 500, more than any other driver in this year’s field. Other drivers in the field who have led more than 200 laps are Tony Kanaan (346) and Helio Castroneves (305).
  • The oldest driver in the starting field is Tony Kanaan, 46 years, 150 days on Race Day. The youngest drivers is Rinus VeeKay, 20 years, 261 days on Race Day. A.J. Foyt is the oldest driver to start the Indianapolis 500. He was 57 years, 128 days old when he made his last start in 1992. A.J. Foyt IV is the youngest driver to start the Indianapolis 500. His 19th birthday was on Race Day, 2003.
  • Twenty-two different drivers in this year’s field have led a total of 2,523 laps in previous Indianapolis 500-Mile Races.
  • There is a combined 237 previous Indianapolis 500 starts among the 33 drivers in this year’s field. The record is 260 years of experience, set in 1987 and 1992. There were 211 years of combined experience in last year’s field.
  • The most-experienced row in this year’s starting lineup is Row 2, with a combined 37 career starts (Ed Carpenter 17, Tony Kanaan 19, Alex Palou 1). The least-experienced row is Row 10, with seven combined career starts (Stefan Wilson 2, Max Chilton 4, Dalton Kellett 1).
  • There are nine former Indianapolis 500 Rookies of the Year in this year’s field, an event record. The previous record was eight, in 1990.
  • This is the second time a Team Penske car will start from the back row of the Indianapolis 500. The other time was in 1978, when Mario Andretti started 33rd. But there’s a catch: Andretti was forced to start in the rear of the field when he missed qualifying due to racing in the Belgian Grand Prix in Formula One. Mike Hiss qualified the car eighth, but the driver switch forced Andretti to start from the rear. He finished 12th.
  • Sage Karam will start 31st for the third consecutive year in a Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry.
  • Twenty of the 33 starters in this year’s field are veterans of Road to Indy. The veterans are Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Max Chilton, Conor Daly, Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, Colton Herta, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, Tony Kanaan, Sage Karam, Dalton Kellett, Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, Graham Rahal, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus VeeKay and Stefan Wilson.