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Hunter-Reay wins pole, points leader Dixon starting second at Sonoma finale

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Saturday, September 15th, 2018

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

SONOMA, California – Ryan Hunter-Reay ignored the hype surrounding the battle for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship and set about the task at hand: winning the Verizon P1 Award in qualifying for the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Ryan Hunter-Reay celebrates on pit lane after winning the pole position for the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Joe Skibinski

The Andretti Autosport veteran won the pole position for the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma with a dramatic last lap in the Firestone Fast Six, the climactic round of knockout qualifying. Hunter-Reay blasted around the Sonoma Raceway road course in 1 minute, 17.6277 seconds (110.605 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda to earn the first starting position for Sunday’s season finale.

INDYCAR GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Official qualifying results

In doing so, Hunter-Reay also prevented championship leader Scott Dixon from earning an important bonus point awarded to the fast qualifier. Dixon still takes a 29-point lead over Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi into the race that offers double points. Team Penske teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden also remain mathematically alive in the title chase, each 87 points behind Dixon, as the Verizon IndyCar Series champion will be decided at the last race of the season for the 13th straight year.

But qualifying belonged to Hunter-Reay, who picked up the seventh pole position of his Indy car career and first since Long Beach in April 2014.

Scott Dixon sails through the Turn 9-9A Esses section during qualifications for the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

“This (No.) 28 DHL Honda team did just such a good job putting a great car under me,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s nice to finally get that pole at Sonoma because we’ve been knocking on the door for it for years, so definitely a good team effort.

“I’m certainly doing my part (to help Rossi); I just took a point away from Dixon, so we’re doing everything we can do.”

Dixon, in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, will start second after a lap of 1:17.7599 (110.417 mph). Dixon is chasing a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship that would leave him behind only A.J. Foyt (seven) for most season titles in Indy car history.

“I think we definitely had a shot to put the PNC Bank car on pole, but we’ll have to chalk that up to driver error,” Dixon said. “I had a lap going that would have gotten the pole, but I just made a mistake and it cost us.

“We’ve had a fast car all weekend here at Sonoma and we’ve stayed at the pointy end of the field since we unloaded. Hopefully that will continue in the race (Sunday) and we can finish the season strong.”

Rossi, Power and Newgarden will all be within arm’s reach of Dixon when the green flag drops on the 2.385-mile permanent road course hosting the season finale for the fourth straight year. Rossi will start sixth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (1:18.0019, 110.074 mph) after opting for Firestone black-sidewall primary tires in the Firestone Fast Six instead of the traditional choice for softer red-sidewall alternates.

Alexander Rossi races down the backstretch esses during qualifications for the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Stephen King

“I don’t think we had the pace for Ryan, but we decided to try something different and see where it got us,” Rossi said.

“I don’t see us starting behind Dixon (as) that big of an issue. We just need to make sure we build a good race car and make sure we do the best job that we can and extract the most out of the (No.) 27.”

Reigning series champion Newgarden qualified third in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:17.7937, 110.369 mph). Teammate Power qualified a season-worst seventh in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:17.6495, 110.574 mph). It’s the only time this season that Power did not advance to the Firestone Fast Six on a road or street course.

“We unfortunately should have gone another lap (in Round 2),” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “We were trying to save our tires for the Fast Six, but it was just a bad call. Unbelievable when you think about our qualifying record this year, but that’s how it goes.”

The INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma pays 100 points to the winner, with 80 for second place and sliding down to 10 points for 25th position. Dixon clinches the championship by finishing ahead of Rossi and in no lower than 21st place.

Rossi could lay claim to his first title under numerous scenarios finishing ahead of Dixon, the simplest by winning the race and Dixon placing third or worse without collecting the two bonus points for leading the most laps. For Newgarden or Power to win the championship, they must win the race, have Dixon finish no better than 24th (and not lead the most laps) and Rossi finish no better than 10th.

Patricio O’Ward rolls out onto pit lane to start qualifications for the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher

Marco Andretti reached the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in 2018, qualifying fourth in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. Andretti won the pole for the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in June under a single-session, group-qualifying format.

Patricio O’Ward, the recently crowned Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, continued to impress by advancing to the Firestone Fast Six and qualifying fifth in the No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet (1:17.9737, 110.114 mph). It is the best qualifying effort for Harding Racing in its first full-time season.

“I honestly don’t know what to think about it,” O’Ward, the 19-year-old Mexican, said when he realized the company he was in. “When I saw that I moved into the Fast Six, I thought, ‘Newgarden, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Rossi – such big names, you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years.’

“It’s something that you have to start believing that you can be like them, that you can beat them, that you can give them a run for their money. It’s a new feeling.”

Live coverage of the 85-lap race, including the post-race championship presentation, begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

‘What They’re Saying’ from INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma qualifying

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s disappointing it (the lap time) wasn’t enough. I thought our Verizon car was really quick and I was excited for the Firestone Fast Six. I thought that was where we would shine, and then when you get there and finish third, you’re a bit disappointed. We’re just going to try to work on our race car now and do well there. If (running fast all race) is what we get to do, that will be fun. I don’t know what we’re going to do yet, just because I haven’t fully looked at the strategy yet, but yes, if we are on the go-quick-all-day game, that’s a good day to be in the race car.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a tough qualifying for the ABC Supply car No. 4, we just missed the pace today, the whole weekend, to be honest. We were trying a different setup for qualifying, but it didn’t work very well for us. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’re going to debrief with the team, see what Tony (Kanaan) tested, see what he likes, what he doesn’t and focus on tomorrow’s race. We might have a shot to have a great race tomorrow. It’s the last one of the year, so we’ll try to finish on a high note.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We needed to improve with the wind going this direction, unfortunately. Yesterday, it was a complete 180 from the way it’s blowing – we just don’t have the car sorted for that. With the Firestone reds (alternate tires) the way they are, it’s kind of one and done on the laps and I made a couple small mistakes. With the field being this competitive, you just can’t afford to do that. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics guys, we should be starting further up than that. It’s definitely been a struggle this weekend. We’ll put our thinking caps on and see what we can do to make it better tomorrow.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I’m a little disappointed with my qualifying run. I made a mistake that cost me a few positions. This track is a really important track position kind of track, but we’ll do our best tomorrow. Hopefully with our strategy, we’ll have a little more pace on our long runs in the Lucas Oil car. We’ll fight it out tomorrow.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet): 
“I think it’s pretty cool. I honestly don’t know what to think about it. When I saw that I moved into the Firestone Fast Six, I saw (Josef) Newgarden, (Scott) Dixon, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, (Marco) Andretti, (Alexander) Rossi, such big names, you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years, since I was a kid. Scott has been racing for a long time. I think even before I started my open-wheel career, Josef was already in INDYCAR. Basically, everybody here was already in INDYCAR. It’s just something unique. It’s something that you have to start believing that you can be like them, that you can beat them, that you can give them a run for their money. It’s a new feeling. I really don’t know what to think about it. I couldn’t be more stoked for the team. I’m really happy I got to give them their first Firestone Fast Six. Harding and Team Chevy have given me an awesome opportunity so far. The focus this weekend has been, obviously, to do a good job. My objective was always just to be in the top 10, so it was an objective succeeded.

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I think we definitely had a shot to put the PNC Bank car on pole today, but we’ll have to chalk that up to driver error. I had a lap going that would have gotten the pole, but I just made a mistake and it cost us. Congrats to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti (Autosport) on the pole, though. We’ve had a fast car all weekend here at Sonoma and we’ve stayed at the pointy end of the field since we unloaded. Hopefully, that will continue in the race tomorrow and we can finish the season strong.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think we’ve had pace in the NTT DATA car all weekend to be in the top eight or so. And potentially, if things went our way, we could have been in the Firestone Fast Six. It’s just super frustrating. We had a car that was fast enough to progress and get through qualifying.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It wasn’t the right call to do one lap in that session. We did two laps on the first set (of tires) and we were trying to do it in just one lap in the second session and the guys called me in. And, of course, we should have done two laps because the guys went faster behind me. It’s really no one’s fault because I was pushing to just do it in one lap, as well. It wasn’t just a good lap. It’s unfortunate. We will look ahead to the race and see what we can do from seventh.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was the lap of my life. It’s a shame you do such a good lap with what you’ve got and you start where we are. I’m not saying I’m happy where we’re starting, but I’m happy that we found something that we can work on for tomorrow and during the offseason to make this car better. But, I’m also happy that I really put a good lap together, that is satisfying for me (personally). It’s nice when I can make the difference. That’s why we’re a team, if the car’s not there, I can make the car go there. It was my best lap of the weekend and one of my best qualifying (laps) ever. Not the (best) result, but putting a perfect lap together. That’s a shame because sometimes it doesn’t mean that the perfect lap that you put together will be the fastest lap on the racetrack, but it’s the fastest lap of your limits and what you had in your hands. We’ll keep fighting. I don’t give up, that’s not in my vocabulary. I’m not giving up.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): “I think we found some good improvements between Rounds 1 and 2 that helped the Total Honda. We still have a little bit of work to do. Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day. Without a morning warmup, I think there will be a lot of drivers and teams scratching their heads wondering what to do. We certainly didn’t have three-plus-tenths (of a second) to advance, but to be ninth was decent. I expect both tires (Firestone alternate reds and Firestone primary blacks) to fall off a lot, so we’ll see. I don’t know which one will be preferred. Actually, I thought the reds were going to be, but then in qualifying from lap to lap, you can feel the rear tire degradation a little bit whereas the blacks don’t seem as bad.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “On the blacks (Firestone primary tires), the SealMaster Honda No. 18 is pretty solid in comparison to everybody else. On the red (Firestone alternate) tires, we simply don’t have it. The gap to the guys in front is big. We also got caught in traffic. There were just too many things wrong for us to make it today. We’ll take a look at the data and see what we can come with for tomorrow.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We had a test on Thursday and practice yesterday and our No. 19 Paysafe car was competitive on both days. The conditions are always changing here at Sonoma Raceway, especially the wind, it changes direction a lot. Coming into qualifying, we had a lot of tail wind, mostly in the heavy braking zones, which made it tricky for everyone. The track temperature was also a lot hotter than the morning, so we knew it was going to be tough. That said, I think we put in a decent qualifying effort, qualifying seventh in our group, so we’ll be starting 13th tomorrow. Our goal was to make it to Round 2 and we were very close in doing so, but it just wasn’t our day today. We’re always making progress and now we need to focus on tomorrow, and hopefully, we can come out of it with another solid top-10 finish.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It was quite tricky really. We seemed quite strong, but starting our run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), we had a problem somewhere. We’re just plugging into the car, trying to work out exactly what happened. We had to come into the pits, so I didn’t get to set a lap time on reds. I think we were going to be close to the cutoff time. It’s annoying when you can be inside the top 10, but you end up last. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a long race. I think it will be quite physical; the circuit seems quite demanding. It’s going to change a lot as the race goes on. Running both Firestone compounds, the black (Firestone primary tires) and reds, will be a balancing act on how you set up the car and how you drive. There are going to be a lot of variables.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet):
 “We were trying to change the balance from this morning to get the car more where needed it to be, but we didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, unfortunately. We haven’t done more than a handful of laps each outing, so the race will be a bit of an unknown. Hopefully, we can keep the tires underneath us and have a good, consistent car. It will be a tough starting position for the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but it’s a long race. We’ve got a great team here and we’ll try our best to make our way up tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’ve made great progress this weekend and today, for sure. I’ve found my smile again. I haven’t been that happy on road courses all year long and we’ve made mega progress. I’m really happy with the car in general. Now, it’s just that last bit of time that is on the table. Now it is all about the little details to get just a little bit more and that is very satisfying. We are very strong in race pace as well, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. There is going to be a lot of tire degradation and it’s going to be an interesting race.”  

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “We really struggled with grip there on the Firestone alternate (tires), so we’ll evaluate that. Tomorrow is going to be a very different beast the way the track grip and tire degradation is, so 85 laps and trying to make the fuel mileage work for the whole race is going to be quite interesting. The engineers will figure out what we need for the car tomorrow and we’ll go racing.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): 
“I’m a little disappointed to be starting 10th. I think we definitely had a car to be starting a little further up. I didn’t get the clean lap we needed. That’s why Sonoma is so tough – you get one lap to really do it and that’s about it. I just made a small mistake going through Turn 2 on the fast lap and that’s what solidified our fate. But, I know we have a good car and we’ll keep pushing and move forward tomorrow. I think this season has really helped me understand how the whole process works a little better – getting timing, making sure you have the right gap and have the car set up properly for the reds (Firestone alternate tires). I think we were just a little too aggressive for the reds today. Comparing where we were in St. Pete to Portland and here, I’m really happy with the progress we’ve made this season.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): 
“I don’t think going out on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) was the right call, but we’re trying to stay aggressive and trying to capitalize in areas where we think we can. In the end of the day, I don’t think we had the pace for Ryan (Hunter-Reay), but we decided to try something different and see where it got us. This race is 85 laps. It’s pretty difficult to just do one lap around here, let alone 85, so we’ll make sure we build a good race car. I don’t see us starting behind (Scott) Dixon that big of an issue, we just need to make sure we build a good race car and make sure we do the best job that we can and extract the most out of the No. 27. It will be difficult without the warmup tomorrow. It’s a little bit of a guessing game, but my engineer, Jeremy (Milless), missed his daughter’s birthday for this, so happy birthday! We’ll make sure we make the right decisions to have a fast race car. We have really good teammates around us and in front of us, so we’ll lean on them to help build a fast car for tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was a shootout out there right to the last minute with trying to figure out which tires to go with, but the Firestone reds (alternate tires) were just awesome in the Firestone Fast Six. This No. 28 DHL Honda team did just such a good job putting a great car under me. It’s nice to finally get that pole at Sonoma because we’ve been knocking on the door for it for years, so definitely a good team effort.” (On helping his teammate’s championship efforts): “I’m certainly doing my part, as I just took away a point from (Scott Dixon), so we are doing everything we can do. Big group effort from all four Andretti Autosport cars. We just put our heads together and made a fast race car today. And yes, we would be in title contention today if we didn’t have five DNFs, but all in all, though, a pretty positive season. We’ve been in contention everywhere we go, so hats off to these guys putting a great car under me and I was able to put a lap together when it counted.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “Qualifying provided a mixture of feelings. In Round 1, the car reacted how we expected, but when we put the red (Firestone alternate) tires on, the car was not quite there. In Round 2, we struggled with the balance. It was very close, but I just didn’t get good grip out of the tire. I wish we had a higher starting position, but I think tomorrow we will be strong for the race and hope we can gain back some positions.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 39 Cly-Del Honda): “We had a top-six car for qualifying. I was working a really good lap at the end, but the wind caught me a little off guard and I locked the rears and lost the car going into the last turn and it cost us a shot at (Round 2). There’s not much else to say. I want to say thanks to the crew and the team for providing me an awesome car. We will just have to pass a lot more cars than we were hoping to tomorrow. I think our Cly-Del Manufacturing car will be good in the race. It’s going to be about being smart and moving up the field, keeping our head down and making up spots and hopefully a few yellows (flags) go our way.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “That was a really frustrating session because we felt like we’d made a step forward. I hit traffic on my first run which compromised our warmup lap, which meant I didn’t have the tire temperature I needed. On my second run, the car felt better, but it just didn’t quite come together. This really isn’t a reflection of where we should have been today.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM MSR with SPM Honda): “That qualifying run was probably representative of where we were in practice. The competition is so high when you get to this level. At this track, you really have to produce when everything is good because when it’s not good it just makes it that extra bit harder. The guys are working really hard and continue to engineer the car well for me. We just haven’t quite stumbled upon that combination just yet. As always, we are working as hard to put our AutoNation / SiriusXM car up front. We have a lot of guests here, so we want to put on a great race for them.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I just finished up my first Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying session. I was kind of a nervous wreck beforehand.  Once I got in the car and got situated, I felt a lot more comfortable and just tried to progress each and every session. I had a fairly clean lap and didn’t make any mistakes, so I am happy with my lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tires), just missing a little bit. A tenth would have got us in the Firestone Fast Six, (or) fast 12. It’s just so close in Indy car racing, and if you make that slight little mistake, you are not going to do well. I think our pace on old tires has been good, so I can’t wait to get into the race and see how we do.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “I think this U.S. Concrete team did a really good job with staying with the track. We learned a really tough lesson on (Firestone alternate red tires) yesterday; we were 16th. We were able to get within a tenth-and-a-half, but that’s not good enough. When (Scott) Dixon sent it off (during the Firestone Fast Six), I thought that was my shot at pole because he would’ve lost his laps, but that wasn’t in the cards. Luckily Ryan (Hunter-Reay) stole the point from (Dixon).”

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