INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon was the first qualifier for Indianapolis 500 qualifications this weekend. He was also the last. Dixon, set the quick time of the day on Saturday which allowed him to go last among the nine drivers in the Fast Nine Shootout.
On Saturday, Dixon said he was shockingly nervous before hopping into his No. 9 Honda. He had never gone out first before and the nerves of the “Ice Man” was playing with him.
So, are the nerves higher with going first on Saturday or last on Sunday, especially with what’s at stake for him on Sunday too.
“I’d prefer going last, for sure,” Dixon said in comparing his nerves between the two runs on each day. “But then I didn’t after I saw the ECR and Herta run. I was definitely pretty nervous.
“I don’t know. It’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions for everybody. I think the difficult part for all of us is just having that confidence. You got to remember last time we all drove the car was yesterday probably around a similar time. You’ve had a lot of time to think. Unfortunately most of the time it’s not great thoughts. You’re thinking of things going wrong sometimes, but trying to stay positive. Then you’re trying to chase weather conditions as well. Definitely was a little warmer today, a lot more sun on the track than what we had. We were going more aggressive than what we had done yesterday.
“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.
“I’m actually really relieved that that’s all over.”
Dixon, had one man to beat, Colton Herta. The 21 year old Andretti Autosport driver had just went 231.655 mph in his No. 26 Honda and hopped out of his car not knowing the status of how Dixon was doing on the 2.5-mile track behind him.
“I knew I was first. I didn’t know what time I did. I didn’t know what Dixon was doing,” Herta said. “I couldn’t find a board to tell me. I ended up finding one later in the run. But, yeah, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I could only tell by what the crowd was cheering it was probably bad news for me.”
It was bad news. Dixon, turned a first lap of 232.757 mph. Herta’s opening lap was 232.356 mph. The second lap of Dixon was 231.879 mph. Herta’s was 231.672 mph. That was the difference.
Herta, was quickest on Laps 3 and 4 and it was honestly by a wider margin than expected. But, Dixon did just enough on Laps 1 and 2 to earn his fourth career pole for the Indianapolis 500.
Last year, Marco Andretti beat Dixon for the pole on his fourth and final lap. This year, Dixon won it on his first lap.
He also won it from some frightening changes to his car made overnight. See, Herta went out Saturday afternoon for a second run strictly for data for today’s Fast Nine session. He did so about the time of when he’d be running on Sunday.
It paid off for him.
“Yeah, I mean, the biggest thing that changed was just the gearing,” Herta told me. “The gearing changed. We were using different gears. That seemed really good for the conditions.
“Yeah, it was helpful. It was helpful to get the read on the downforce numbers, personally how it felt inside the car. It was fairly close. Probably a little bit cooler track temp and air temp than yesterday at 3:30, 4:00, whenever it was. Yeah, it did help.”
For Dixon, they made changes to his car against his will and ones that he honestly didn’t want to know about.
“He makes me nervous a lot of the time,” Dixon said of his engineer. “I sit across from him every day. He shakes a lot, which makes me shake now.
“Some of the times when we’re going through the process, actually last week, too, where we kept missing calculations by a little bit. He’s like, Today we’re going to change this, we’re going to change that, change this. I’m like, Remember, our car yesterday was pretty good. Are you sure you want to change? He’s like, I think it’s going to be a bit better. I’m like, All right, I don’t want to know anything else now. Don’t tell me.
“I knew they were going to monitor the other cars rolling up to go out, see if anybody made any changes. We felt we had a fairly good idea of trim levels. We were already starting fairly aggressive to some of the teammates. When they’re adjusting, I knew they’re only going one way, that was more out. I didn’t hear the final number.”
Both drivers said that they laid it all out there. Herta was disappointed to miss out on the pole by seven feet, but he also is happy that he gave it everything he had and was just happy to have an opportunity in the Fast Nine.
“Glad it’s over,” Dixon said.