By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
LONG BEACH, California – A year ago in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud tangled on the first lap of the first turn, ending Pagenaud’s day. Now heading into Saturday’s qualifying session this afternoon, both drivers set blistering lap times during final practice which saw Rahal take second and Pagenaud ending up fifth quickest.
Their efforts comes in a time were both drivers are dealing with a skid of their own with Rahal looking to bounce back from a 23rd place finish at Barber and Pagenaud is searching for consistency as he sits 12th in the championship standings, one point ahead of Rahal and 66 markers behind his Penske teammate Josef Newgarden, who ended up sixth in the session.
In the closing minutes of the session, it appeared that Rahal’s fast pace was going to stand after clocking in with a time of 1:07.1866, but just at the last second, Alexander Rossi took it a step further with a time of 1:07.0588 and was the overall fastest driver.
While flattered of putting up a blistering lap time, Rahal heads into qualifying focusing on putting up a superb lap time that’ll get him his first pole since Belle Isle in 2017, that is if he goes error free that bitten Rossi and Matheus Leist, who overshot a corner during the session.
“You’re pushing hard and there’s no margin for error,” said Rahal. “You’re going to use all the road and them some in qualifying. The TOTAL No. 15 team has worked awfully hard to be competitive the last few weeks and hopefully today is our day, but we’ll see.”
Pagenaud felt confident that his No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet is capable of making the Firestone Fast Six, a feat he hasn’t seen since Gateway last August, hoping by making it into the fight for the pole, it’ll signal a true turnaround on his IndyCar career as he hasn’t won since the 2017 finale at Sonoma, 20 races ago.
“Tough start on the season for sure. The car has been great honestly. We’ve had good performances. Not that you can’t see, but it’s there,” said Pagneaud. “Slowly but surely, we’re creeping up on it. We’re really happy with the car this weekend. It’s about putting the lap together and I think we got a car for the Fast Six, so we just have to put everything together on the red and black tires and start out front.”
Qualifying to determine the lineup for Sunday’s 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will commence at 3:10pm EST. Live coverage from NBCSN will begin at 2:45pm EST.