Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe waited until the last lap to just nip Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's Justin Wilson for pole position for Sunday's IndyCar race at Watkins Glen.
Team Rahal's Ryan Hunter-Reay was third ahead of Scott Dixon, Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.
Briscoe was fastest in the morning practice but it looked like Wilson had beaten him for pole until Briscoe pulled it out on his last lap by just a couple of hundredth’s of a second.
Knocked out of the top spot by Justin Wilson, Briscoe answered with a lap of 1 minute 29.3456 seconds as time ran out on the final qualifying session. That put Briscoe and the No. 6 Team Penske Honda/Dallara on the pole position for Sunday’s race.
Briscoe said he slowed down through certain sections of the course in order to shave enough time to top Wilson’s lap. “I had to slow it down in order to go faster,” Briscoe said. “I had been overdriving it a bit and going a little wide around those fast bends. So I slowed it down a little bit and saw that my splits were better. It was so close. To come down to the last lap was nice for me.”
As Briscoe started his final lap, he was notified by radio that he no longer had the top position. “When I started that lap, I was about a tenth slower than I had been in the first sector,” he said. “They came on the radio and told me I’d dropped down to P2. They told me what Justin’s time was. I knew it was my last lap, so I just sucked it in and went for it.”
It was Briscoe’s first pole at Watkins Glen International his second pole position in his IndyCar Series career. In June, Briscoe scored the team’s 300th victory.
“It came down to the last lap,” Briscoe said. “The team was telling me on the radio how we were progressing through the lap. There were one or two quicker lap times by other drivers, then all of the sudden they said, ‘You're P2. P1 is a 1:29:38.’ I knew I had to pull it all together. I'm really happy for Team Penske and all the effort they've put in to getting the car ready. It was a great last lap, and it's great to be on the front row with Justin Wilson. After seeing how this race can play out, it's a big help to start on the pole.”
“It was our plan to come in before the end of the session because we planned to use a certain amount of fuel," said Wilson. "Obviously weight is a big factor and having enough fuel to do an extra lap is a big deal so we are trying to do everything to a minimum and this was our best shot. To come back in the pits, get out the car, see the timing and go from first to second by a couple of hundredths (of a second) is quite frustrating.
"But at the same time I'm very pleased with the performance we had in qualifying and we had this weekend, considering we came straight to this track completely blind. We haven't tested here, we haven't done any running. We still haven't tested on a road course. I think the McDonald’s team has done a fantastic job. I'm just very excited at being able to challenge for the pole position. My car was working really well.
"There were a couple of times on the last lap where I knew I had to pull something out. I think three times I thought I'd put it in the wall. But fortunately the McDonald's car was gripping well, hanging on. I was just able to get back on the power. I closed my eyes on a few of the exits.”
The pole is the fourth in a row for Team Penske at Watkins Glen. Helio Castroneves, who won the previous three poles, had mechanical difficulties during the first qualifying segment and did not turn a lap. He will start a career-worst 26th.
New format for qualifying
With more entrants in the field than the previous three years thanks to the merging of the Champ Car World Series with the Indy Racing League, the IRL has changed its IndyCar qualifying format for road races.
The first group of 13 cars had 20 minutes to produce the fastest lap possible, followed by the second group getting another 20 minutes. The fastest six cars in each group then had 15 minutes to produce their best laps, and the best six from that group had a 10-minute session to determine the pole position.
The top six spots on the starting grid were set in order of times from that final 10-minute session. Positions 7-12 will be in order from the 15-minute session, and 13-26 will be in order from the opening 20-minute sessions.
Under the old format, each car had one lap for a qualifying time, and the top six would then go back out to battle for the pole.
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, first): “It came down to the last lap. The team was telling me on the radio how we were progressing through the lap. There were one or two quicker lap times by other drivers, then all of the sudden they said, ‘You're P2. P1 is a 1:29:38.’ I knew I had to pull it all together. I'm really happy for Team Penske and all the effort they've put in to getting the car ready. It was a great last lap, and it's great to be on the front row with Justin Wilson. After seeing how this race can play out, it's a big help to start on the pole.”
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team, second): “To come back in the pits, get out of the car, see the timing, go from first to second by a couple of hundredths, that's quite frustrating. But at the same time, I'm very pleased with the performance we had in qualifying and we had this weekend, considering we came straight to this track completely blind. We haven't tested here. We haven't done any running. We still haven't tested on a road course. I think the team's done a fantastic job. I'm just very excited at being able to challenge for the pole position. My car was working really well. There was a couple of times on the last lap where I knew I had to pull something out. I think three times I thought I'd put it in the wall. But fortunately the McDonald's car was gripping well, hanging on. I was just able to get back on the power. Closed my eyes on a few of the exits.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 17 Rahal Letterman Racing Team Ethanol, third): “We changed the car a lot overnight to today, and it was a massive improvement. We just went with what works with me in the car rather than going with the team’s older data. We went with it, and it went great. We made the car better and better over the sessions. We kind of snuck in there. We were sixth in the first one, sixth in the second one. And like Scott (Dixon) was saying, it’s really long. By the last lap, on that last qualifying session, you’re on the ragged edge, just desperate for every half a tenth (of a second). It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it today.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fourth): “It's a long qualifying session. I guess in the end it didn't work out too bad for us. We struggled in the first session. I just had no front grip. I couldn't turn the car. The second session wasn't too bad. And then our last one there in Q3, or whatever we want to call it, the gearbox kept locking up so we had to go to manual mode, which was a bit of a pain. I think twice it stopped. Actually I tried going back to auto again. That was one of the things that we had out there. But ultimately I think the car's pretty decent. I think we had a little bit more in it. I don't know if we had enough for pole. Those guys were pretty quick out there. But I still believe we got a pretty good car for the race.”
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 5 KV Racing Technology, fifth): “I was very happy to make the Firestone Fast Six, having just missed out in St. Petersburg last time, and to have a chance to get pole. I am really happy with how we improved the KV Racing Technology car every session. I felt the car was faster than we showed because on the third lap, in Turn 1, I ran wide and broke something in the front wing. From there I couldn’t improve, I was pushing (understeer) too much. So it was a little my fault trying to go too fast too soon. But the car was good, the team did a great job, and we still managed to be fifth.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Team 7-Eleven, sixth): “It was pretty exciting for the fans and us. We’re not in the position we’d like to be, but it’s always good to make the top six. Up to this race it was only me and Helio (Castroneves) who had made all of them. Helio didn’t make it this time, so that makes me the only one. If there’s any consolation about not being on the front row, I guess that’s it.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Blockbuster, seventh): “I think we had a little bit more in the car. That's why the oso*fresh guys are all a bit disappointed. We did a good job, though. We're right there with the top six. It's not ideal, but we're in it and we have a very good race car.”
DARREN MANNING (No. 14 ABC Supply Co./AJ Foyt Racing, eighth): “We went from 20th in practice this morning to eighth this afternoon, so I’ll take that. We made some good improvements and even went back to some stuff we ran yesterday. We risked a big change between the sessions, and the car was better again, but I just needed another run on new tires, and I think we would have had enough for the top six but the full-course yellow took away that opportunity. We’re understanding the car more, so that is the most important thing we gained.”
DAN WHELDON (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, ninth): “I think compared to Scott (Dixon), my speeds through the middle of the corner were up, but it was costing me on the exit. I was losing a little bit of time in the bus stop. The car has been really competitive and very consistent all weekend, but perhaps didn't get the most out of it during qualifying. It was just a little bit off. Everything is so close now that it probably cost me.”
VITOR MEIRA (No. 4 Delphi National Guard, 10th): “I felt like that was about all we had in our car. We made a few changes during the qualifications to see if we could squeeze everything out of it, but we’re happy with where we’re starting. It would have been nice to start closer to the front, but there are a lot of great drivers and teams out here, and that makes it a bigger challenge for us. It’s better for the fans too. The race car is good, and I feel like we’re ready to make a run for it tomorrow.”
||Ryan Briscoe (6)
||Justin Wilson (02)
||Ryan Hunter-Reay (17)
||Scott Dixon (9)
||Oriol Servia (5)
||Tony Kanaan (11)
||Marco Andretti (26)
||Darren Manning (14)
||Dan Wheldon (10)
||Vitor Meira (4)
||Bruno Junqueira (18)
||Will Power (8)
||Mario Moraes (19)
||Danica Patrick (7)
||EJ Viso (33)
||Enrique Bernoldi (36)
||Buddy Rice (15)
||Graham Rahal (06)
||Mario Dominguez (96)
||Hideki Mutoh (27)
||Ed Carpenter (20)
||A.J. Foyt IV (2)
||Jaime Camara (34)
||Jay Howard (24)
||Milka Duno (23)
||Helio Castroneves (3)