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Trackside Update: Races and Qualifying on the street of St. Pete

3.23.13 – The first IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying session of the season is in the books from the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and the Andretti Autosport stable made yet another strong showing with three cars starting inside the top 10 for tomorrow’s 110-lap race.

Leading the way today for Andretti Autosport was driver James Hinchcliffe in the No. 27 Chevrolet. Hinch qualified in the fourth position today – the same position where he both started and finished the 2012 Grand Prix of St. Pete.

"It's good to be back and good to get the first qualifying of the season out of the way,” said the Hinchtown Mayor. “To have the Go Daddy car in the first two rows… we're pretty happy with that. The big question mark was these red tires (Firestone alternate red tires), they don't let us test with them so everybody was trying them out for the first time. What we figured out pretty quick was how peaky they are, it's kind of one lap – maybe two if you're lucky. So we weren't sure what to do with the cars. It's all about finding that gap and putting all the sectors together. Definitely a tough job for the drivers but obviously the Go Daddy car was good, the guys did a great job between all the sessions and I'm happy to be in the first two rows."

RC Cola driver Marco Andretti just barely missed the Firestone Fast Six and will start from the seventh position tomorrow.

"We had a good team effort today for the RC Cola car,” said Marco. “I would have liked to see something in the Firestone Fast Six, but it takes so much to get everything right. The tires are pretty finicky, so that can make things pretty interesting for days like this. We will make some adjustments tonight, and come back tomorrow ready to go."

Ryan Hunter-Reay will begin his championship defense from the eighth grid position tomorrow but knows that nothing is impossible from inside the top 10.

Hunter-Reay said, “We were only a couple tenths off. Looks like we were less than a tenth off from being in the Firestone Fast Six. As usual it's tight – if you miss it by a hair, you're going to be on the outside looking in. Eighth is in the top 10 – we can start from there and still race for the win."

Team Venezuela driver E.J. Viso's moring practice was cut short after a mechanical failure led to contact in Turn 10 early in the session. The car was badly damaged but a valiant effort by the Team Venezuela crew got the No. 5 Chevy ready just in tim e to participate in today's qualifying session – allowing Viso to make up at least a few positions. He will start tomorrow's race from 22nd.

"Well it was a tough day today especially with the morning we had," said Viso. "Something failed in the practice session this morning, and we could only get a couple laps – it was tough to recover. Qualifying didn't go the way we wanted either and we're missing a lot of downforce in the car which made the car understeer like crazy. I'm happy for my teammates, though, they did a good job; James is starting top s ix. I really think tomorrow will be a good day. There are plenty of variables that can affect us, including the weather, but I totally trust the strategies that Andretti is going to put together for tomorrow's race." 
In Firestone Indy Lights, drivers Carlos Munoz and Zach Veach had a strong presence today inSt. Petersburg. The day started off right as Carlos won the pole position award for posting the fastest lap during qualifying. Much of the day was filled with high expectations for the race, unfortunately Carlos ran into mechanical issues with five laps to go, and was forced to retire early from the 45-lap race. Zach posted a strong start to his day by qualifying fifth fastest in the field. While he was able to stay competitive, Zach wasn’t able to gain the positions needed to bring home a victory for the K12 car and Andretti Autosport. He finished the day in the fifth position. Carlos and Zach both put in a great effort this weekend, but are now turning their attention to winning the Legacy Indy Lights 100 at Barber Motorsports Park on April 7.

Mazda Road to Indy driver Shelby Blackstock recorded his first Pro Mazda Championship career pole today and finished the series’ first race of the weekend in the third position, marking his second podium finish of the season. Pro Mazda teammate Matthew Brabham had a difficult morning in qualifying and started Race One from the eighth position. However, after a great on-track effort he was able to come away with the win. His second victory of the season.

The USF2000 Championship also competed today with qualifying and the running of their first race of the weekend. Garett Grist qualified in 28th-position and finished the race in 22nd, but the 17-year-old will start tomorrow's race in P14 based on his fastest lap of Race One. Teammate Austin Cindric qualified in 18th position for Race One on the streets of St. Petersburg. This is Cindric's highest qualifying effort to date.

You can catch all the action from St. Pete starting at 11 a.m. ET tomorrow on NBC Sports Network  (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640). Coverage will begin with the airing of today's Firestone Indy Lights race and be followed by all of the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage starting at noon. If you can't make it to the television listen along with the broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, on SiriusXM (Channel 211) and
Be sure to follow the official Andretti Autosport Twitter feed (@FollowAndretti) for live-twitter coverage and a behind-the-scenes look at race day from St. Pete.

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