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Alexander Rossi repeats as NTT P1 Award winner at Long Beach

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

LONG BEACH, California – Now that he’s repeated as the NTT P1 Award winner at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Alexander Rossi is looking to echo the 2018 race results.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by John Cote

The driver of the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda captured the pole position for the NTT IndyCar Series race on the iconic Southern California street circuit for the second straight year in qualifying Saturday. Rossi capitalized on the first starting position in 2018 to win the race in dominant fashion.

ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Qualifying results

Rossi turned in the best lap in the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three rounds of knockout qualifying. He navigated the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit in 1 minute, 6.4811 seconds (106.569 mph) – the fastest lap of the race weekend thus far.

“It was about doing it on that one lap,” Rossi said. “I was happy we decided to run two sets of reds (Firestone alternate tires in the Firestone Fast Six). We hadn’t done that in the past, but it made the difference today.”

The pole was the fifth of Rossi’s four-year NTT IndyCar Series career, and he will lead the 23-car field to the green flag in Sunday’s 85-lap race (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Three of the Andretti Autosport driver’s previous pole positions have resulted in race victories (Watkins Glen in 2017 and both Long Beach and Mid-Ohio last year).

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Joe Skibinski

“It would be great to win a home race,” the Nevada City, California, native said. “This pole was exponentially harder to win than last year’s … so this one was more special.”

“We have a good opportunity (in the race), and it’s important that we take advantage of it,” added Rossi, who sits fourth in the season standings, trailing leader Josef Newgarden by 40 points.

Scott Dixon, the 2018 NTT IndyCar Series champion who sits second in the season standings, qualified second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, at 1:06.7479 (106.143 mph). It equaled the best Long Beach qualifying effort for Dixon, who hasn’t won the pole at the track in 13 attempts.

“(We) kind of misjudged and (had) a bit of miscommunication, kind of aborted the second lap,” Dixon said. “We started catching Rossi on his lap and thought that was going to ruin us a little bit, and then I thought that (we were) done, but apparently we had another lap. All in all, we left a little bit on the table maybe. Whether we could have got to that pole time, I’m not too sure.

“I think we’re in a strong position (for the race),” Dixon added, “and I think we can keep it in the front.” 

A week after Team Penske was shut out of the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in five years, all three drivers reached the climactic round Saturday, with Will Power and Newgarden sewing up Row 2. Power qualified third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:06.8748, 105.941 mph), with Newgarden fourth in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:06.9096, 105.886 mph). 

The third Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, reached the Firestone Fast Six for the first time this season, qualifying fifth in the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet (1:07.1877, 105.448 mph).

“It was great for all three of us to get in (the Firestone Fast Six), considering how tight it’s been in practice,” said Power, a two-time Long Beach race winner and three-time pole sitter. “That was my aim just to get in the top six because I felt like I was struggling all week. But, yeah, the teams worked well. 

“It was a mega lap Alex did (to win the pole). I couldn’t see myself doing that, but very good to be in P3.”

Graham Rahal, who ran a lap of 1:07.3052 (105.264 mph) in the No. 15 TOTAL Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, qualified sixth.

Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist appeared primed to reach the Firestone Fast Six until he ran into the tires in Turn 9 late in the second round, forfeiting by rule his best two laps of the session. Rosenqvist will start 12th in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda and is among four rookies in the top 13, with Patricio O’Ward ninth, Colton Herta 10th and Santino Ferrucci 13th.

“It was a driver mistake, definitely,” Rosenqvist said. “I had a good lap, then went for a second one that looked a bit slower, but probably tried too hard there in the last sector. It’s always within thousandths and hundredths of a second, and you don’t really want to relax even if you’ve had a good lap time. 

“It’s always such small margin, so just a slight mistake looking up over the bump will cost you. I maybe (braked) three to four feet later than the lap before and that was enough to settle down the front and I got out in the dirt a little bit.”

A final 30-minute warmup practice starts at noon ET Sunday and streams live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Sunday’s race, the fourth of 17 on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, will be the 36th consecutive for Indy cars on the streets of Long Beach.

‘What They’re Saying’ from Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach qualifying

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s a much better starting position (than last week’s race), for sure. The Firestone Fast Six is great for the race. I think we’ll have a much better vantage point to the start of this thing compared to Barber. It’s hard to make something happen at 16th, but up in the top six, it makes a world of difference, so excited about that. Wish we had a little more today, honestly. I thought our car was great. My engineer Gavin (Ward) did a good job, the team did a good job. Wasn’t much missing from what I could feel. The car felt really good. We were just a little shy in performance, and we’ll chip away at it, figure out where that’s at, but I thought it was a solid run, and like you said, a great starting position, so we’ve got to be happy with that.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Unfortunately, things didn’t go our way. We’re struggling a little bit with the car. The conditions changed so much from practice and qualifying, you never know what’s going to be good and what’s going to be bad. I was just not comfortable driving the car today, pretty much the whole weekend. Hopefully, things are going to start to get better. We still have a warmup tomorrow, so we’ll see if we can make some improvements to have a good race car.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): (About the red flag hindering a session): “It’s something that has caught out a lot of people this year. As drivers and teams, you can’t predict this, unless you want to start out on your reds (Firestone alternate tires), which exposes you in a different way. If INDYCAR’s not willing to make a change, that might be a strategy that people start adopting. It’s really unfortunate. I think the Arrow car was really quick. I made a bit of a mistake on our black (Firestone primary tires) lap; that was on me. We should have been in it (on to Round 2) on black pace, to be honest. That can be the defense of the series, ‘If you were quicker on blacks, you would have made it through.’ I think we had a great car on reds; we tuned the car for reds, not for the blacks. If we had been able to finish our lap, I think we would have been very competitive.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We didn’t really get a lap on the blacks (Firestone primary tires), then we decided to box early to try to get out first on reds (Firestone alternate tires). We came out decently on reds and ready to do a lap and then there was a red flag. It happens a lot in this series and it’s very frustrating.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was OK for us, and all those other guys did two tires runs and we got stuck at one, so I’m not sure how that will shake out for tomorrow. It’s hard to know how hard to push, especially with the tires on the first and second lap. I think there was a couple of tenths (of a second) may be in it, maybe not the four we needed, though. (Alexander) Rossi did a good job there, but let’s see what tomorrow brings. I’m looking forward to the race tomorrow in the PNC Bank car, and I think we’re in a strong position and I think we can keep it in the front.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “(The contact with the wall) was a driver mistake, definitely. I had a good lap, then went for a second one that looked a bit slower, but probably tried too hard there in the last sector. It’s always within thousands and hundreds of a second, and you don’t really want to relax even if you’ve had a good lap time. The instruction is always to push until the end. It’s always such a small margin, so just a slight mistake looking up over the bump will cost you. I maybe broke three to four feet later than the lap before, and that was enough to down settle the front and I got out in the dirt a little bit. It’s done and I couldn’t make it to the safety zone, so I was sort of stuck in the middle there and hit the tires. It was really unfortunate, but that’s on me. The NTT DATA car was really good today, so credit to the boys and we’ll focus on the race tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was great for all three of us to get in (to the Firestone Fast Six), considering how tight it’s been in practice. That was my aim, was just to get in the top six because I felt like I was struggling all week. The teams worked well. I think the car feels super good balance-wise, like I’m very happy with it. It was a mega lap Alex (Rossi) did. I couldn’t see myself doing that. But very good to be in P3.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Somehow we lost our way last night and it was my fault trying to make up for something that we don’t have. It’s frustrating, I shouldn’t have made the mistake, I should have known better, but that’s my competitive side. I’m always going to try to do better and it’s frustrating. Somewhere, somehow last night we lost our way, so we’ve got to regroup tonight, and hopefully, we’ll have a better race car for tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): “We were lucky to sneak into the top six. We’re having to work too hard to get the pace. The rear of the car is just not good enough. We felt that all weekend. In the mornings when the track grip is a little higher, we can get away with it, but when it gets hot we struggle, we’ve got to figure that out. We’re going to push hard to get the TOTAL machine a win. Barber was a huge step forward for us, but all year I have felt like we were close to getting into the Firestone Fast Six consistently.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “The No. 18 SealMaster Honda guys did a really good job. We turned things around pretty good this morning and I think we have a good race car. I really thought we would be right there in qualifying. Then sure enough, in the heat we picked up a bit of understeer. That kind of killed me on the reds (Firestone alternate tire). I was just missing the flow and it’s always so close here. It’s a shame. The problem is when you start 14th, it’s not going to be an easy task, but we will fight and see what we can get tomorrow.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda): “Our No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda was really quick today. The engineers did a fantastic job. We were definitely keen to advance into Round 2. Unfortunately, I gave the wall a much bigger kiss than I had ever wanted to do coming out of Turn 8 and that killed our lap and our chances of advancing. I look forward to going into the race tomorrow. I think we have a good race car.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet): “We tried to change up the strategy a bit to try and avoid getting affected by a red flag, as that has happened in a few previous qualifying sessions. We didn’t get to show our potential on black (Firestone primary) tires, our third lap was going to be our quickest, but we came in early for reds (Firestone alternate tires). Because we stopped early, our first lap on reds was affected by cars coming out of the pit lane in front of us. On the second lap, the red flag came out. By doing what seemed like the right thing, in hindsight, created another issue for us. I don’t know how much farther up we would have been but, but one of the worst things is when you don’t get to see what your potential is. It seems we have improved every session this weekend, so I feel like we will have a strong car for the race and should be able to move forward quite a bit.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “We’ve been chasing a lot of things this weekend, unfortunately it’s not just one thing we are looking for. We’ve been trying a lot of different things, but haven’t been able to hit the nail on the head yet. We’re going to have a long day tomorrow, but hopefully, we’ll make some solid improvements to the car overnight, maybe get creative with strategy and see what we can do.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “We worked pretty hard. It’s pretty cool to see how hard Team Penske has been working all winter trying to figure out that street course setup and as we’ve shown today with all three cars being in the Firestone Fast Six, we’ve made a great improvement. I had a lot of fun driving the car all weekend. What a great track. It’s awesome to drive around here. The car was great. We just had a few more laps on the tires just like Graham (Rahla) did due to being in Group 2, but the car was fantastic and it was super competitive. I’m pretty pleased being fifth on the grid. We won from fourth in 2016, so why not.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “Honestly, I’m just confused. Nothing talked to me out there – those laps especially on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). I don’t really know what’s going on. We shouldn’t be starting where we are and that’s a question mark for us. For whatever reason, we just didn’t have it today, so I’m just trying to figure that out and wrap my head around it. All through practice we had good pace, but then as soon as we put the reds on – as with yesterday – the car just goes away from us. We’ll have a lot of work to do starting P22 tomorrow, but we’ll work hard to fight our way up.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, NTT P1 Award pole winner): (About what it’s going to take to get a repeat win at this track): “I don’t know, it’s hard. It’s hard out there. It’s amazing how tight it continues to be and just the depth. I mean, we say it every year, but it’s crazy. That was exponentially harder than last year, but a huge hats off to the boys on the No. 27 car. To be able to continue the development, push forward for race week, coming into a race like this is a pretty big testament to them. I guess it’s easier to focus on the race if you were bad the year before, but we couldn’t rest on our laurels and we struggled a little bit yesterday just kind of putting it all together. But we made some good changes overnight and obviously very pleased to have been able to pull it off there at the end.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Obviously, disappointing to not make into the Firestone Fast Six. We had a unique situation with the tire opportunity in qualifying. We ended up using used reds (Firestone alternate tires) to try and move into the Fast Six, and it just didn’t seem like we had the performance on them while the others were on new. It was definitely a bit of a fumble considering the speed we’ve had. We’ll have some cars to pass tomorrow to get to the front, but we’ve had good pace this weekend and still have our sights set on a podium finish or the DHL team.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda): “I don’t think we optimized the reds (Firestone alternate tires). In Q1 (Round 1), due to the red flag, I didn’t get a taste of them to know how they were going to be. Yesterday we struggled, so this morning we were chasing around the lap setting. The first time we used this setup was in qualifying. We seemed to be OK on the black (Firestone primary) tire, but we just needed to optimize the red tire a bit more.” (About whether he can win from eighth): “Everything is possible, nothing is impossible. I would love to be on the podium if I can. It is extremely tight and extremely competitive, which is good for the sport, but from the competitor’s point of view, it is tough.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet): “We definitely had the pace today in the No. 31 GESS Carlin Chevrolet, but unfortunately we just got caught out by that red (flag) and couldn’t finish our quick lap. We were right on pace to make it into the Firestone Fast Six, so this one stings a little bit. It’s been a blast driving around this place – it’s such a fun track to drive. I think we have a lot to look forward to for tomorrow’s race with how much progress we’ve made over the weekend. It’s a hard lap to put together, but it’s nice to know that we do have the pace to compete at the top.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “The No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet was the best it’d been all weekend today for qualifying. We’ve been struggling with balance and we were nowhere this morning, so we definitely made progress. I know we’re starting 16th, which is right in the middle of everything, but from where we started this morning, we made a positive change. It’s just so close out there. If I had the balance that I had this morning, I probably would’ve gotten more out of it for qualifying. In general, I’d say we’re making the right steps forward, but it’s just incredibly close out there.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda): “The encouraging thing for us is that we have pretty good black (Firestone primary tire) pace. We were strong this morning and were running P5, we just didn’t take a very big step on reds (Firestone alternate tires). We will have to take a look on why that is because we usually are pretty good on reds. Once we figure out why, then we will be able to figure out the solution straight away.”  

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda): “From my standpoint, it was a very disappointing day because we never got a fair crack at the Firestone Fast Six. Unfortunately, we left a little late and a red flag came out, so we never got our time in and never got the benefit of the red (Firestone alternate) tire. Although we’re starting 10th, I know we could have made it through to the Firestone Fast Six because I was on my fast lap when the red flag came out. We never got the chance to show our speed. But hopefully, we can charge towards the front in our No. 88 King Taco Honda-powered car tomorrow for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda): “I wish I was a second or two more up the road when the red flag came out and then my last lap would have counted. I think my race car is really, really good – we almost used Q2 as a test session there. I think if we would have played it conservative, we could have had a shot at the Firestone Fast Six. We have pace and I think our race car is even better so I’m excited. We just have to go for it and pass cars. We’ve been able to pass cars starting 20th or 17th – now that we are starting inside the top 10, I think we can make something of it.”

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