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Dixon leads sizzling-fast day of Watkins Glen practice

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (Friday, Sept. 2, 2016) – Two things are evident following today’s practice sessions for the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen presented by Hitachi: Scott Dixon has recaptured his magic at Watkins Glen International and, barring unforeseen weather complications, the track record will fall hard in Verizon P1 Award qualifying.

Dixon set the sizzling pace as every driver in the 22-car Verizon IndyCar Series field logged laps well under the course standard during the opening two sessions on the iconic 3.37-mile, 11-turn permanent road circuit. Driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Dixon’s top lap of 1 minute, 22.8740 seconds (146.391 mph) in the afternoon session was more than five seconds below the official record established by Ryan Briscoe in 2009.

CLICK HERE: INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen combined practice results

Verizon IndyCar Series track records may only be set in qualifying or race sessions, so any new standard must wait until Saturday’s three rounds of knockout qualifying. Dixon feels it’s inevitable.

“The times have dropped almost six seconds,” said Dixon, who won three straight races at The Glen from 2005-07. “I think we’ll see it well over six seconds by the time we get to the (Firestone alternate) red tires in qualifying. I think (cooler) weather conditions are playing a big part, too.

“So, yeah, it’s definitely fast. It’s a lot of hard work. … Love being back here at The Glen.”

Helio Castroneves, a three-time Watkins Glen pole sitter, was second quick with a lap of 1:23.0327 (146.111 mph) in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Fellow Team Penske driver Will Power was third at 1:23.0717 (146.043 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Power trails championship leader and teammate Simon Pagenaud by 28 points in the standings with two races remaining. Pagenaud slid his No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet into the Turn 7 barrier trying to post a fast lap at the conclusion of the afternoon and finished 11th overall.

“I think we have a good baseline now and to start the day tomorrow,” said Pagenaud. “We’re confident to go qualifying and be up front. Unfortunately, we had little bit of an off-course ride at the end, but nothing dramatic. The guys – they’re the best in the business – will get it fixed up and we’ll be all good for tomorrow.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series is back at The Glen this weekend for the first time since 2010. Nine previous Indy car races have been held on the upstate New York circuit – from 1979-81 and 2005-10. Fresh from an off-season track repaving and with added downforce from the Chevrolet and Honda aero kits on the Dallara IR-12 chassis in competition for the first time at Watkins Glen this weekend, the track is faster than ever and requires extra courage through its high-speed corners.

“It takes a lot of commitment at every corner,” said Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda who was seventh on the combined speed chart today. “As far as road courses are concerned, at any other track it’s unparalleled. Road America would be the only other place there is that has high-commitment corners like this on a consistent basis.

“It’s silky smooth around here. This is by far the smoothest place we’ll go to, that’s probably ovals included. This place is spectacular.”

A third practice session is scheduled from 11-11:45 a.m. ET Saturday, ahead of Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 3 p.m. Both sessions will be streamed live on , with NBCSN providing a delayed qualifying telecast at 6 p.m.

Coverage of the 60-lap race, the penultimate event on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, begins at 2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Any of the eight drivers still alive in the title chase – Pagenaud, Power, Tony Kanaan, Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Dixon, Rahal and Carlos Munoz – must be within 104 points of the leader after Sunday’s race to still have a chance heading to the season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18.

TAG Heuer names Rossi brand ambassador

Alexander Rossi, rookie winner of the epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May, has been named the newest brand ambassador for the TAG Heuer line of watches.

TAG Heuer is an official INDYCAR partner. The Swiss-based timepiece maker since 1860 debuted two watches to commemorate the historic 100th Indy 500 – the Carrera Heuer 01 Indy Limited and the Formula 1 Indy Limited.

“I’m honored to partner with TAG Heuer and become part of the family,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen. “TAG Heuer is a legacy brand and with great history in motorsport.

“There is great synergy in our focus and pursuit of perfection. The timing is ideal and a perfect alignment of brands, and I look forward to a great future as a TAG Heuer brand ambassador.”

TAG Heuer gained notoriety in motorsports circles in the 1950s, drawing the likes of Formula One legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Ayrton Senna as company ambassadors. Its racing popularity added Hollywood notoriety in 1971 when actor/racer Steve McQueen wore a Monaco, the first square-cased cosmograph, in the film “Le Mans.”

Rossi joins that elite group of ambassadors.

“Together, we will continue to set milestones,” said Killian Muller, president of TAG Heuer USA. “Alexander made history by winning the 100th run of Indy 500 and we are so happy to welcome him into our family.”

Samsung sponsoring Pigot for final two races

Ed Carpenter Racing unveiled a new paint scheme today for the No. 20 Chevrolet driven by rookie Spencer Pigot with Samsung sponsorship. The car will carry the Samsung colors for both this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen and the season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“Samsung is thrilled to partner with Spencer Pigot and the No. 20 car for Watkins Glen and Sonoma,” said Matt Smith, vice president of Samsung Business. “It takes passion, grit and pure talent to be great and Spencer clearly has what it takes to be great at racing. We are excited to support Spencer with the help of Rising Star Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing.”

Samsung is a global conglomerate based in Seoul. Rising Star Racing, whose clients include Pigot, Ed Carpenter Racing teammate Josef Newgarden and Mazda Road to Indy driver Neil Alberico, matches corporate sponsors with open-wheel drivers.

Kaiser sets pace in Indy Lights practice

Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing was fastest in two Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires practice sessions with a lap of 1:33.4343 (129.845 mph), a day ahead of the only race this weekend for the top tier of the Mazda Road to Indy development stepladder.

Championship leader Santiago Urrutia of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian was second at 1:33.4911 (129.766 mph). Ed Jones (Carlin), who trails Urrutia by 16 points with three races remaining, was fourth fastest on the day. Indy Lights qualifying and the race both take place Saturday.