May 23, 2017 / 10:02 PM / 3 months ago

Indy 500 pole sitter Dixon wary of Alonso threat

May 21, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Scott Dixon celebrates with children Poppy and Lilly after winning the pole position during qualifying for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO (Reuters) - Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Scott Dixon feels twice Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who is making his IndyCar debut on Sunday, will be one of the main threats to his chances of winning The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Alonso slipped into an IndyCar for the first time three weeks ago but the accomplished driver qualified for the 33-car race with the fifth fastest time and starts in the second row.

"He's done amazing and, to be honest, to win the race he's going to be one of the guys you're going to have to beat," Dixon, a four times IndyCar Series champion, told Reuters on Tuesday during a promotional IndyCar stop in Toronto.

"You can typically weed out a group of guys in any formula that are at the top and are slightly different than the rest and he is one of those guys."

Dixon, who started from pole when he won the 2008 Indy 500, said Alonso will benefit from driving for an Andretti Autosport team that put four drivers in victory lane, including Alexander Rossi, who last year became the race's ninth rookie winner.

May 20, 2017; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Fernando Alonso waits in line during qualifying for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Alonso's driver coach is 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran, who is famous for his analytical approach to racing, which Dixon feels in another element that makes the 35-year-old Spaniard a threat on the sprawling 2.5 mile (4.02 km) speedway.

"You can tell he does everything very methodically," Dixon said of Alonso. "He's got a great group of people around him... helping him and guiding him. Plus it's one of the few places we do get a lot of practice at which helps a lot."

While Alonso has barely had any experience of riding in IndyCar traffic, New Zealand's Dixon feels sheer ability will prevent him from being a risk to other drivers.

Dixon, who qualified fourth for his first Indy 500 in 2003, said rookie drivers may even have an edge.

"My first year at Indianapolis we had a pretty competitive car, we led a lot of laps and then we had a few issues in the end but to me it was one of the easier races because there was no pressure," said Dixon.

"There was an expectation but it wasn't through the roof and you didn't know what was right or wrong so it kind of just flowed. So there are positives to having run here before but there are positives being a rookie too."

Editing by Ken Ferris

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