Watkins Glen Preview

As this championship winds down with two races to go, the Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Watkins Glen International, in the Finger Lakes region of western New York. At this time last year, Susan and I told each other we would be at this race. However, life and budgets got in the way over the past year and it was obvious before the season even started that it was not going to happen this year. Hopefully next year we can make it, since we’ve never been there.

When we were at Gateway last weekend, I talked to many people that were going. They compared it to Road America with more history and more things to do in the area. Regular readers of this site know how much I love Road America, so it sounds like a place we need to go to.

Both tracks opened about the same time. Road America opened in 1955, while Watkins Glen opened the following year. While Watkins Glen is not as long as Road America, IndyCar does utilize the full course that includes “The Boot” that extends the course to 3.37 miles, compared to the 2.45 mile layout used by NASCAR. Not only do I like the longer layout, I think The Boot section is the most scenic part of the track, based on what I’ve seen on television.

Of course, Formula One raced there from 1961 to 1980. Jim Clark and Graham Hill both won at the Glen three times each in the sixties. Iconic drivers like Sir Jackie Stewart, James Hunt and Ayrton Senna have two wins apiece at Watkins Glen. Other notable drivers to win at The Glen include Emerson Fittipaldi Jochen Rindt, Ronnie Peterson and Niki Lauda.

CART raced there for three years, from 1979 to 1981. Bobby Unser won two of those races and Rick Mears won one of them; both while driving for Roger Penske. The Verizon IndyCar Series raced at Watkins Glen from 2005 through 2010 before returning at the very last minute last season as a substitute for the Boston Grand Prix debacle. Scott Dixon won the first three races last decade before the other three were won by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Justin Wilson and Will Power. Scott Dixon won last year’s IndyCar race at Watkins Glen International.

Last year’s race at The Glen was fairly well attended, which was a surprise since fans only had less than four months notice since it was a replacement for the aborted Boston race. Race organizers had hoped for that to be a springboard for this year’s race. It didn’t happen. From what I understand, ticket sales have been abysmal. It’s a shame, coming off of such a strong attendance weekend at Gateway. Hopefully, more fans will show up than what I’m hearing. Track owner ISC is not normally fond of opening up a track for nobody. Fontana found its way off of the schedule due partly to poor attendance. I’m hoping that they will be patient with Watkins Glen and give it a chance to grow.

The championship is shaping up as a showdown between three Penske drivers (Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud) and one Ganassi driver (Scott Dixon). Will Power pretty well took himself out of the running with his first lap crash last Saturday night at Gateway.

I’ve heard some say that this is Josef Newgarden’s championship to lose. With only a thirty-one point lead over Scott Dixon, I’m not sure how anyone could possibly think that – especially when you consider that Dixon has won four times at Watkins Glen. Granted Newgarden finished second last year in his only appearance at Watkins Glen, but the success and experience that Dixon has had at that track cannot be overlooked. Plus, the season finale at Sonoma in two weeks is a double-points race, and Scott Dixon is a three-time winner there. So anyone ready to count Scott Dixon out of this championship is being very premature, and quite frankly – very foolish.

While his critics are having fun with the fact that Helio Castroneves botched his own pit-stop, he is still only forty-two points behind Newgarden. While Watkins Glen is not Helio’s best track, he did finish third there last year. That was his best finish in seven starts at The Glen. Prior to that he had one fourth-place finish in 2009 and two other Top-Tens. But Castroneves has won at Sonoma and another second-place finish. The defending champion, Simon Pagenaud, is only one point behind Helio. To write off either of their championship hopes would also be very foolish at this point.

If Josef Newgarden has a bad day on Sunday, it gives hope to many. Given the way Newgarden has been driving since in the last four races, that isn’t likely. He has won three of those four races, and placed second in the one he didn’t win. Does he keep the hot hand or does he cool off? I’ll be curious to see how he and Pagenaud are doing after their little dust-up at Gateway last weekend. My guess is that on the surface, everything will be fine. The Captain doesn’t like a lot of in-house controversy.

So who will win it? Will Newgarden try and seal the deal by winning four out of five and continue to distance himself from his opponents? Will Pagenaud take control of a race rather than simply manage it and race for points and consistency? Will Helio or Will Power try to erase their mistakes at Gateway and make things right with a win? Or will Scott Dixon tighten up the points race by scoring a win. What about a wild card like JR Hildebrand, Takuma Sato or Charlie Kimball. Can Ryan Hunter-Reay or Tony Kanaan close out their disappointing seasons with a win? There are lots of questions going into this race. My guess is that Newgarden will have a good weekend, but Scott Dixon will win for a fifth time at Watkins Glen. How’s that for going out on a limb?

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Watkins Glen Preview”

  1. Another fine post George, but sheesh, when do you sleep? At work?

  2. The season ends at two of Dixon’s best tracks, and while l e I hope he wins the title, Newgarden has shown a lot w poise and det r rumination late in the season. I think it’s a toss up for the title

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Dixon is due, isn’t he?

  4. Brian McKay Says:

    easy to guess that one of four Team Penske racers may win

  5. There is nothing funny about flooding, but can we expect your next “One Take Only” to be from a boat?

    • Last night was rough, but our house and yard were fine this morning. The neighborhood was not so lucky. Still, it’s nothing like Nashville’s Flood of 2010 which approached some of what Houston is going through right now. Scary stuff. – GP

  6. George,

    What race(S) did Ayrton Senna win at Watkins Glen? 1980 was the final year for F1 at the Glen, Senna never competed (only tested) in Indycar, and no history of his career indicates that he ever won any race there.

    Thanks for clarifying.

    • Ok. You’re the lucky winner in this week’s “Prove the Blogger Wrong Prize”. I wrote this late Thursday night and was looking at a list of USGP drivers and forgot to take the dates into account. You win!

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