Story Credit: INDYCAR PR
Photo Credit: INDYCAR Photo
LONG BEACH, California (Saturday, April 14, 2018) – Alexander Rossi wasn’t to be denied in his quest to claim the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The Andretti Autosport driver was fastest in all three rounds of knockout qualifications on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street course. He punctuated the effort by earning the pole position in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1 minute, 6.5528 seconds (106.454 mph) in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda. It was the second pole position of Rossi’s three-year Verizon IndyCar Series career, following the one he earned last season at Watkins Glen International.
“Obviously, you go out every single session and believe that you have the best car and the best opportunity to do it,” said Rossi, who led two of the three practice sessions prior to qualifying. “We have been so strong; we were strong here last year. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda has been so fast. The team definitely executed some NAPA know-how today and we’re really happy to start from the best spot (on Sunday).”
Rossi wound up more than three-tenths of a second quicker than anyone in the 24-car field. Two-time Long Beach race winner Will Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, will start second after posting a lap of 1:06.9054 (105.893 mph) in the Firestone Fast Six. Power was vying for his fourth Long Beach pole but first since 2011.
“I felt like we had a really good car,” Power said. “Got to the Fast Six like we needed to and just were not fast enough basically to be on pole. But very happy to be on the front row. We’ve kind of crept up all weekend and definitely made the car better and in a good window now.”
Team Penske sent all three of its drivers into the Firestone Fast Six spots. Simon Pagenaud qualified third (1:06.9107, 105.884 mph) in the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet and 2018 points leader Josef Newgarden sixth (1:07.1922, 105.441 mph) in the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet.
Newgarden’s effort in the Firestone Fast Six was abbreviated when he brushed the wall exiting Turn 8 and sustained damage to the left rear suspension of his car.
“I just ran out of talent momentarily,” Newgarden said. “I probably got too greedy with too much slide on the entry (into the corner), so I just hit the wall, bent the toe (link) – and it was pretty bent – so I had to pit. I don’t know that we would’ve gotten the pole; it would’ve been tight.”
Scott Dixon qualified fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda (1:07.0483, 105.667 mph). The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won the Long Beach race in 2015 but has never sat on the pole in 12 tries at the track.
Graham Rahal qualified fifth in the No. 15 Total Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (1:07.1275, 105.542 mph).
Ryan Hunter-Reay, one of Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammates who also ran up front throughout practice, was penalized for an improper pit exit in Round 2 of qualifying and failed to advance to the Firestone Fast Six by five-hundredths of a second.
Hunter-Reay, in the No. 28 DHL Honda, was issued a pit-lane drive-through penalty for not keeping his left-side tires inside the pit exit line on the track – something stressed by INDYCAR during a team managers’ meeting on Friday.
“The DHL guys did a great job with the car and they deserve better,” Hunter-Reay said. “We had a front-row car here and we’re starting seventh. The drive-through penalty in qualifying isn’t something I really understand. Once we got issued that, we didn’t have time to warm up the tires and set a new fast lap.”
The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is hosting Indy cars for the 35th straight year. A final 30-minute warmup practice begins at noon ET Sunday and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The 85-lap race airs live on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 4 p.m. ET Sunday. It is the second of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.