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Rossi dominates Long Beach qualifying to earn Verizon P1 Award

by Mike Haag | Posted on Saturday, April 14th, 2018

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

LONG BEACH, California – 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.

Alexander Rossi with the Verizon P1 Award trophy after winning the pole position for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — Photo by: Chris Jones

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).”

TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Qualifying results

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.

Alexander Rossi sails into the Turn 11 Hairpin during qualifications for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach — Photo by: Richard Dowdy

“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.

Actor/comedian Riggle to ride in Honda ‘Fastest Seat in Sports’

Actor, comedian, writer, producer and director Rob Riggle will lead the field at Sunday’s race as the passenger in Honda’s “Fastest Seat in Sports,” the two-seat Indy car driven by racing legend Mario Andretti. Riggle and Andretti will lead the parade lap prior to the start of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

In its ninth year, the “Fastest Seat in Sports” gives celebrities and notable influencers an opportunity to experience the thrill of a high-speed ride in a Honda-powered two-seat Indy car – with Andretti and Arie Luyendyk Jr. taking turns behind the wheel throughout the season.

Riggle’s fans can see him this fall in the upcoming comedy, “Night School,” with Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, and hear him on his podcast, “Riggle’s Picks with Rob Riggle and Sarah Tiana.”

Andretti Autosport partners with Crown Royal Wall of Gratitude

Andretti Autosport is extending its mission to assist the military by partnering with the Crown Royal Wall of Gratitude that allows race fans to honor their heroes.

The initiative is part of Crown Royal’s “Live Generously and Life Will Treat You Royally” campaign. Fans of legal drinking age may submit names of their military heroes to crownyourhero.com. Crown Royal will select 31,680 names and have each engraved on a five-inch gold plaque in time for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 27. If placed side by side, the plaques would equal the 2.5-mile distance of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Andretti Autosport drivers Marco Andretti and Alexander Rossi placed the first two names on the Crown Royal Wall of Gratitude during a ceremony Friday at the racetrack.

“I’m just honored to do it. We’re lucky to have this platform through Crown Royal and we’re able to give the military the recognition they deserve,” said Andretti, driving the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda this weekend. “The timing’s great being Memorial Day (weekend), but they deserve (recognition) every day all year round. There’s a lot of eyes on us at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so the most that we can do, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Andretti Autosport last year began its Military to Motorsports program, assisting veterans in locating jobs within the motorsports industry. Rossi drove No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda to a third-place finish on April 7 at ISM Raceway.

“I think the No. 1 thing is in the name and it’s ‘gratitude,'” said Rossi. “And something that’s very unique for us as racing drivers and teams is that we have a platform to reach a lot of people and that’s a very fortunate position to be in.

“Being able to take an opportunity to thank the men and women who have served and who are currently serving is a huge thing for us because, especially as we go into May and Memorial Day weekend in the biggest race in all of motorsports, there’s a lot of attention that goes on us for a lot of good things.”

“What They’re Saying” from qualifying at Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach 

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): (About hitting the wall in qualifying): “That’s why I pitted, I bent the left rear suspension touching the wall. It was a mistake on my part, which is a shame. I think we had the pace there on the optimum set of (Firestone) tires that we were going to run. I think we had the pace to be up there with (Alexander) Rossi. I don’t know if we would have gotten him (Rossi), but we would have been in the ballpark. So we never got to see that through, which is tough and makes our race a little harder starting from sixth. We have great speed in the Verizon car. I think Team Chevy has done a great job this weekend so we have the driveability that we are looking for, we should have good power to make this thing work on race day.” 

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet):
 “Tough qualifying. We’ve been struggling a little bit with setup and myself as well because it’s a new track for me, it’s my first time here, and INDYCAR has a lot of great drivers. The car is very good. We just missed the top 12 by one position. I’m pretty happy. I’m confident that we will have a great car in race trim, and hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, 2017 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner): “Not a bad qualifying for us given where we were this morning. We rolled off the truck with not the strongest No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda, but again, credit to the team. We worked on everything, we improved the position of the cars, we improved the balance; it was definitely a lot of work. This place is a very different circuit than St. Pete, so unfortunately, it wasn’t just a direct copy setup-wise. Again, we were kind of out to lunch this morning, and really proud of the guys to get the car into a place where we could sneak into the top 10. We’ll see what we can do tomorrow. It’s a long race, and we’ve seen before how much things can change from qualifying to Sunday afternoon. We will put our heads down, put together a good race car, pray for great strategy and go from there.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I pushed a little too hard, and I brushed the wall at the exit of Turn 4. I bent the rear toe link, so we had to bring it back in; it’s a shame. When you’re pushing on the limit, and trying to get into the Firestone Fast Six, you risk everything. We went a little bit too far in that one, but the Lucas Oil car was good enough to get into the Fast Six today, nevertheless it was a good turn around from the guys considering where we came from in practice. The car felt much better than it has all weekend, so good job by the guys crunching the data, crunching the numbers to give us a better car here for this afternoon.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was good for us to make the top six. The car rolled off the truck really well and we worked on it through the first few sessions. We made some pretty hefty changes before qualifying and the car came back where we needed it. I was disappointed I made a bit of a mistake going into Turn 8 near the end and that cost us a shot at the front row I think. Overall, I’m happy with the result and know we can get the PNC Bank car to winner’s circle from this spot.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a little more difficult out there after the sports car race. I think the second lap was going to be my quickest, but I made a mistake so I had to go to my third and I dropped by a tenth. It is certainly frustrating. The guys did a great job after struggling a lot yesterday. This morning we were P10 and pretty good. I do still think we have a good NTT DATA car for the race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was good. I felt like we had a really good car. Got to the Firestone Fast Six like we needed to, and yeah, just were not fast enough basically to be on pole, but very happy to be on the front row. You know, we’ve kind of crept up all weekend and definitely made the car better and in a good window now. That was a lot of fun.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “That’s where we’ve been around all year long and that’s where the goal was. I think this weekend we could have been a little bit better, but we had a few issues electronically that put us behind, and missing a session is never a good thing but it’s racing. Problems happen and I’m glad it happened today and not tomorrow. But I’m pleased – I think it was a big improvement on the No 4 car as well so we’re gonna go race.” (About expectations for tomorrow): “It’s always tough when the field is that close. It’s going to be a fuel mileage race so we’ve got to talk about strategy here. Strategy is going to play a big role here – it always has, so we’ll see.

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Total Honda): (About if he got everything out of the car): “Yeah, I think so. Obviously, you can always look back and say here or there maybe you had a tenth or two, but certainly…I didn’t have speed to be anywhere near Alex (Rossi). But you know, overall, that first session I was just happy to advance. It was unbelievably slippery and pretty ugly in Group 1. You know, obviously improved quite a lot for Group 2, and then into Round 2 it was much better. But I’m really pleased with where we’re at. I mean, if you look at St. Pete and how we were there, we were awful, and so that was kind of our only baseline to come here with, and obviously it’s worked a lot better. Proud of everybody on the Total team, and we’re going to put our heads down and try to go race with these two and a whole bunch of good guys tomorrow.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “I’m disappointed with Q2 (round 2 of qualifying) after the way Q1 went. We put ourselves in a hole in Q1. We got ourselves at the tail end of the queue and the car in front of us locked up going into turn one, so I had to abort that lap. It was not an easy run, but I still pulled it off on lap three and I really thought we were going to pretty good from there. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the lap I wanted to achieve in Q2. I got a big wiggle in turn one. I’m not sure what happened, but that was the difference. We lost two, two and a half tenths on that lap and that was that. We missed Q3 by a tenth. It’s a bummer, but it is what it is. We will keep digging and hope for a better outcome tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 The Paysafe Car Honda): “It was a tough qualifying session today aboard the No. 19 Paysafe Car in Long Beach. We had an issue this morning that took away some valuable practice time and I think that hurt us heading into qualifying. It’s not an easy track but I did the best I could under the circumstances. We’ll get better for the race tomorrow and hope for the best.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I was happy to get through the first session as obviously that’s the first thing you’ve got to do. I didn’t get a great lap in on the second session. I think maybe the crash I had earlier made me have to reset slightly, which didn’t help. We should have been closer to the cusp, maybe not quite quick enough to get through. We should have definitely been better than 12th, 10th or 8th, that kind of region. Overall still a positive run, but from a personal performance I think there was more to be had.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “We’ve made some really good changes to the car throughout the weekend, but this is a tough track. When it came time for qualifying, we really struggled with grip and when we put the red tires on, it just wasn’t there for us. We will go back and look at everything and focus on getting better for tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “Pretty proud of everybody at Team Penske. We have such success with the previous aero kit, we have to rethink a little of what have been doing, but when you have success that changing method is very complicated. These (Team Penske) guys, they react so quick and we are already back in the fight. The car was really good. I think (Alexander) Rossi is reachable it’s just that I am learning the car because it’s just starting to feel really great, so I left some on the table. We are coming back.” 

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “I’m really disappointed honestly, because we made such good progress this morning. I felt really good about the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet after this morning’s session, but we just struggled to get any good lap times out of the tires and find any grip. We’ll go back and figure out what it needs for the race and dial up the strategy. There’s always something going on around here as far as yellows, strategies, and fuel, so I’m optimistic. Max (Chilton) did a really nice job in qualifying, so we’ll go back and compare our data to see where we need to be for tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “We missed advancing slightly today. I got into the wall on the blacks in the first run, so I think I was a little too cautious at the end when we shouldn’t have been. The Andretti cars have been great, obviously Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and Alex (Rossi) are really liking what they have.  I just need more time to figure it out. We were close to advancing in St. Pete and here, so hopefully in Barber we’ll figure it out. But we have a race to focus on now, and we’re looking forward to it.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “The team is doing a great job. Hats off to all of them, to Honda, to everyone who has put in so much effort. The big job is tomorrow so we have to execute that. I feel like we have given up two potential wins, so we are trying not to do that again tomorrow. But, the team definitely executed some NAPA Know How today and we are really happy to start from the best spot tomorrow. Obviously you go out every single session and believe that you have the best car and the best opportunity to do it. We have been so strong, we were strong here last year. The NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda has been so fast and I’m looking forward to leading the field tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “The DHL guys did a great job with the car and they deserve better. We had a front row car here, and we’re starting seventh. The drive through penalty in qualifying isn’t something I really understand, and once we got issued that we didn’t have time to warm up the tires and set a new fast lap.  What we do is, we leave with a certain amount of time to get exactly the two or three laps we need. The tires are set to a pressure timed to those number of laps, so when you get a drive-through like that your [tire temperatures] aren’t up yet, and you can’t get up to speed in time.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “Qualifying was disappointing. On the first lap, I was kind of held up in traffic and never got the temperature in the tires. Then on the second lap there was another local yellow flag in Turn 1. After that I caught up to Marco (Andretti) and was behind him the entire lap, so I couldn’t go faster.  That was it. It was very disappointing. Hopefully we have a strong race car so we can try to go through the field.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “It was an unfortunate early end to the qualifying session today. I pushed the brake zone too hard going into Turn 9 and that caused the car to push wide and make contact with the wall. We made solid progress to the car from yesterday and I’m still confident we’ll have a great car for the race. I feel terrible for the team, but I’m grateful and confident we’ll have the car ready to race tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Progress has definitely been made. We had traffic and the increase in temperature made the car balance pretty challenging. I feel like we made a huge step forward and I was able to get the most out of what we had apart from the traffic. It’s really good for myself and the whole team to see some progression being made and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that into the race tomorrow with the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “It looked like rush hour traffic out there for us unfortunately. There were a lot of cars not following the rules as they should be and putting other cars behind them, so it was unfortunate we got stuck. We only got our one time lap when we were trying to get two or three and that really cost a lot. I don’t know where we would have ideally ended up, but it was not 19th or 20th, we were better than that today. So it’s just unfortunate, we’ll keep working and move up in the race.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “I made a mistake pushing too hard into (Turn 1) and ended up in the runoff. Once we flat spotted the tires, we didn’t really have hopes of a faster lap. It’s on me and that is going to make it hard to sleep tonight. We were riddled with an issue yesterday and the whole crew worked really hard last night to get to the bottom of it and correct it. We kind of started from scratch this morning and I think we headed in the right direction. I think the U.S. Concrete / Curb car had the pace to advance. Starting 20th doesn’t show our true pace, or the true talents of the No. 98 team.”

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.

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