By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California — Andretti Autosport had the full spectrum of positives and negatives during qualifying for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as their four cars had varying degrees of good and bad fortune ahead of the third race of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Alexander Rossi wheeled his No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda to a pole position-winning lap of 1 minute, 6.5528 seconds around the 1.968 mile street circuit. It was Rossi’s second career pole following Watkins Glen in 2017.
“The whole Andretti Autosport and NAPA team has done such a great job and Honda has continued their development and their push in the off-season so it’s a huge result for us,” said Rossi. “I think that we’ve been — we were close in St. Pete, had we not had the penalty on the qualifying. So to get it here was good, good start for tomorrow, but this sport has a way of humbling you pretty quick, so we have to execute against tomorrow.”
Behind Rossi, Andretti Autosport’s next-highest driver was Ryan Hunter-Reay in seventh. The 2010 Long Beach winner was penalized for crossing the line marking the pit exit lane heading to Turn 1. Hunter-Reay was second fastest in both Friday practice sessions but was capable of starting higher.
“I know that Ryan probably should have been fighting for pole,” said Rossi. “No, I know he would have been fighting for pole had he not gotten that penalty so he’s been more than fast enough and I’m sorry to see that happen to him.”
“We had a front row car here, and we’re starting seventh,” said Hunter-Reay. “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.”
The lion’s share of the bad luck went to Zach Veach and Marco Andretti. Neither were able to advance past their group in round one of qualifying and will start 16th and 20th, respectively.
Veach had some light wall contact during his run and that ended his qualifying prematurely. The No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda has had a couple of explorations of the runoff areas during practices but the Ohio native did have the good fortune of being the fastest rookie during both Friday practice sessions despite a mistake on the setup that the team didn’t discover until Friday afternoon.
“We made changes back where things were supposed to be,” said Veach. “Ever since we’ve done that we’ve kind of just been relearning the car a bit but yeah, I made another mistake in qualifying which kind of cost us transferring. It’s tough but each day we’re getting a little bit better. It’s just frustrating, sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back but I think that’s the process of being a rookie.”
Andretti lost his fastest lap in the session when he caused a local yellow flag by going into the Turn 1 runoff. The No. 98 US Concrete Honda couldn’t get back to the timing line quick enough to start another qualifying lap.
“I made a mistake pushing too hard into (Turn 1) and ended up in the runoff,” said Andretti. “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.”