Hunter-Reay's final lap enough for Long Beach pole
12 April 2014 – American Ryan Hunter-Reay has taken pole position for the 40th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, beating Canadian James Hinchcliffe by 0.1184s. The all-Honda, all-Andretti Autosport front row will lead the field to green tomorrow ahead of Sebastian Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, rookie Jack Hawksworth and Simon Pagenaud.
The premier road course race for the Verizon IndyCar Series, Long Beach was the site of Hunter-Reay's first victory with Andretti Autosport back in 2010 after qualifying second in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Hunter-Reay's fastest lap came after time expired for the third practice session which, for the last minute, looked as though Bourdais might lead. Instead Hinchcliffe jumped to P1 only to be bested by the 2012 series champion to earn his first Verizon P1 Award of the year.
Conspicuously absent in the Firestone Fast Six was three-time polesitter and two-time winner Will Power. He failed to get out of Q1, just missing out on the final transfer spot in favor of Hawksworth by 0.02s. Power had been fastest in the closely contested third practice, which saw the entire field separated by just 1.6 seconds, but his quest to become the all-time leading polesitter at Long Beach will have to wait. This also ended a solid streak of ten road course races where he had qualified in the top ten.
In the first group in today's qualifying, Bourdais led the way in front of Hinchcliffe with a 1:07.9060. Justin Wilson, Newgarden, Hunter-Reay and Oriol Servia also moved on to Q2. They were trailed by Tony Kanaan, St. Petersburg winner Takuma Sato, Mike Conway, Charlie Kimball and rookie Carlos Huertas. Shortly after the session ended, though, Sato was deemed to have impeded another car and lost his fastest two laps.
In the second Q1 group, Frenchman Pagenaud continued his fast streak (which saw him lead the second practice on Friday), leading the way until a last lap by Carlos Munoz meant the rookie would take the top spot and move on to the second round of qualifying. His provisional P1 time of 1:07.8746 was actually quicker than the fastest time Bourdais set in the first group, boding well for the rookie's chances.
Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon would jump Pagenaud at the chequered flag. Joining them in Q2 would also be Marco Andretti and Hawksworth.
For most of the second qualifying session, Munoz continued to lead the pack on red tyres, often falling down the order before coming right back to the top. As the rest of the field's tyres improved, though, the Colombian fell down the time sheet and out of the top six transfer spots. He would finish P11.
Instead it was Newgarden who took the top spot from Castroneves with fewer than ninety seconds to go. All 12 cars at this point were only separated by 1.5s, and the final order was mixed up even further as time expired. Hawksworth sprang up to P3 as the session ended but would later fall to P5. That would be good enough to get him into the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in his short IndyCar career.
Bourdais stole P1 and would lead the second session, 0.07s ahead of Pagenaud and Newgarden. Hunter-Reay followed, ahead of Hawksworth, Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Castroneves, Wilson, Munoz and Servia. This meant that five different teams would be represented in the Fast Six (with Andretti Autosport being the only team to send two cars).
For most of Q3, Newgarden's #77 led the way, but he would only manage P4 after the entire field set their fastest times on the fifth lap of their red tyres. But it was Hunter-Reay who claimed P1 on his final flying lap, giving him six career IndyCar poles and a prime view of the first corner for tomorrow's standing start – the first such attempt of the season.