7.21.2012 - What a day today for Andretti Autosport, as the teams swept three pole positions and finished one-two in the Firestone Indy Lights race.
IZOD IndyCar Series
Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his red-hot streak by winning his second career IndyCar pole position today at the Edmonton Indy. Hunter-Reay will receive the championship point for earning the pole in the DHL / Dr Pepper No. 28 Chevy, but is expected to start the race 11th due to a penalty after the team chose to change the engine prior to the first practice session. (The official starting lineup will be released Sunday morning.)
Hunter-Reay is attempting to win a fourth consecutive race this weekend – a feat that hasn't been accomplished since Sebastien Bourdais opened the 2006 Champ Car season with four straight victories. By winning three in succession, Hunter-Reay matched Dan Wheldon as the only Andretti Autosport drivers with a triple, and also matched his boss, team owner Michael Andretti, who won three straight races on his way to eight victories and a CART championship in 1991. Since 1990, only four drivers have won four consecutive races: Al Unser Jr. (1990), Alex Zanardi (1998), Cristiano da Matta (2002) and Bourdais (2006).
"It was a strange session – with going from the dry track to full wet and then to a drying track on (Firestone) Reds again – you really had to keep on your toes," said Hunter-Reay. "The team gave me a great car. We really progressed this weekend. We started out to lunch yesterday morning, and to be on pole is a huge testament to the team. That session was white-knuckle, I tell you that much. You constantly had to be on edge and the line between getting a lap in and throwing it off track was very very small. So, we're happy to get through it.
"I am really happy with that pole – we even saved a set of Firestone Reds for tomorrow. The track was constantly changing throughout the sessions (because of rain)… It was really hard to come to the decision to run on the used Reds in the final round, but it was the right thing to do. We hadn't been on a wet track all weekend so it was kind of a guess on what (racing) line to use. These cars have very little give in them – going over the bumps and when it is wet it is very tricky. It was great we picked up a championship point for the DHL/Dr Pepper team, but too bad we will be staring 11th instead of first because of the engine change. Tomorrow will be really interesting for everyone."
James Hinchcliffe qualified 12th for tomorrow's race at the 13-turn street circuit at Edmonton City Center Airport in the GoDaddy.com No. 27 car.
"We didn't have – or decided not to for whatever reason – time to make many changes between sessions," Hinchcliffe said. "I had no rear grip out there and was hanging on for dear life, so it's pretty disappointing. Obviously, in Q1 (the first qualifying session) we found some speed over practice and we probably had a chance at making the Firestone Fast Six again. It's just one of those things… luck hasn't been going our way lately. But, last race in Toronto we started 19th and by 25 laps in we were fourth, so we know we can fight back from this."
Marco Andretti qualified 17th today in the No. 26 Dr Pepper car.
"We're disappointed because it's not where we need to be, but we're progressing," said Andretti. "We're improving compared to where we were at Detroit and Toronto, which is encouraging for the race tomorrow. There will be a lot of passing opportunities in the race. Congratulations to my teammate Ryan (Hunter-Reay) on winning the pole."
Firestone Indy Lights
Carlos Munoz won his first career Indy Lights race today in his ninth start. He started from the pole and crossed the finish line more than eight seconds ahead of his teammate, Sebastian Saavedra, who finished second to complete the Andretti Autosport sweep.
"It was a crazy race. In the rain or in the dry, the car was unbelievable… It feels good to win," said Munoz in victory lane. "I had been so close at Indianapolis and Detroit, and we had always been so fast and I finally got pole position. We were first in every practice session, we won the pole and the race, so it was a perfect weekend and I have to thank my team. It's impossible to do better! My guys did an incredible job.
"It was the second pit stop of my life," said Munoz about the stop to change to slick tires. "I knew we hadn't done any pit stops but my guys were really good, really fast. But Sebastian's guys were a little quicker. I knew I was really fast, so I took it slow and I overtook him… Now I have more experience, I feel better with the car, with the team, and we've been working a lot, so now it's good to win. I hope to continue like this."
"It was an amazing day for us, especially after a bad qualifying result on my side," Saavedra said. "We knew that the points were very important. Right now we're second in the championship and that's incredible for us. One-two for Andretti Autosport, that's amazing job by the guys. We had an amazing pit stop and I really want to thank my guys. And congratulations to (teammate) Carlos (Munoz). He was in a race of his own, and you know there was nothing to catch him. It was a great battle."
Sage Karam started from the pole position in his Comfort Revolution No. 88 car, and led the first half of the race in dry conditions. When it began to rain, the team brought him in for rain tires, which dropped the American driver to tenth place under caution. When the green flag came out again, Karam moved from 10th to second place in less than a lap, but another caution flag flew before he could take the lead. The race finished under caution.
"We led right from the beginning, opened up about a 3.5 second lead and things were looking good; and then the rain started to come and it go pretty crazy out there," Karam said. "We were still leading when the yellow flag came out – the team called us in to pit, which I think was a good idea. I was thinking everybody else was going to come in but there was about eight cars that didn't and we fell back to tenth. We had to go from there to the lead in one lap and we just couldn't do it. Just have to thank all my sponsor who let me do this each week: Comfort Revolution, Michael Andretti and Michael Fux. We earned good points today and look forward to the second race tomorrow."
Zach Veach had a strong run from the second starting spot, running behind his teammate until the rain began to fall. Like Karam, Veach came to the pits for rain tires, which dropped him to 11th under caution. When the green flag flew again, Veach was caught in a multi-car mess in Turn 1 and finished ninth.
Team owner Michael Andretti was thrilled with the results from all of his teams today.
"It was an incredible day," Andretti said in victory lane following the Indy Lights race. "The biggest surprise, I think, was Ryan (Hunter-Reay) getting the pole – we didn't expect that… It was a beautiful, unexpected surprise. And getting one-two in the Lights and a pole and podium in Star Mazda was awesome too, you couldn't ask for much better. I'm really happy for (Carlos Munoz) on his win today. He's had a tough year, but he's been really fast and this weekend he's just been perfect. Really proud of Carlos – he deserved it."
After such a fine day, Sunday could be even bigger as the 75-lap Edmonton Indy takes place. Watch all of the action on the NBC Sports Network, including the debut of the James Hinchcliffe episode of "INDYCAR 36" at noon, followed by the race telecast.
Thanks again for all of your support for Andretti Autosport, and we'll be back tomorrow with a full wrap-up of the IndyCar race and a second Star Mazda race.