4.6.13- With Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama looming, all four of Andretti Autosport's IZOD IndyCar Series drivers took to the track at Barber Motorsports Park this morning for qualifications. Results varied for the four, but all are optimistic about their chance for Sunday afternoon's 90-lap race, as the team looks for a another victory, as James Hinchcliffe took at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago.
After a disappointing start to the season in Florida, Ryan Hunter-Reay responded by taking the Verizon P1 pole award – his first since the Edmonton Indy in July 2012. "You know this team has done so well this weekend – we just kept progressing," said the defending series champ. Ryan was the only Andretti Autosport driver in the Firestone Fast Six and did not disappoint. Very happy with the result, but recognizing the challenge of tomorrow's Grand Prix, Hunter-Reay made sure to not get complacent. "Now we gottamake these Firestones (tires) hang in there for the entire race. It's a very challenging track. It rewards aggressiveness, but if you step over just a little bit too far on the setup or on driving, it'll definitely punish you."
Ryan was obviously the fastest Andretti Autosport car today but dealt credit to his teammates who helped with the pole-winning setup. "I have three great teammates, four of us overall, working together in one direction. It's a good way to, hopefully, start off our season."
Marco Andretti was next up for the Andretti Autosport team as he qualified eighth with his RC Cola Chevy, but will start seventh because of a penalty to a fellow driver. "We did a great job getting up to speed," said the longest tenured Andretti Autosport driver. "I got everything out of the RC Cola car that I needed." Like Hunter-Reay, Marco is thinking positive for another strong result in Barber after his podium in St. Petersburg. "It's always disappointing to finish just outside of the Firestone Fast Six, but I think we have a great car trimmed out and we will be ready for Sunday."
Starting 16th on Sunday will be Team Venezuela's E.J. Viso. The Venezuelan was looking forward to qualifying well today, but some grip issues prevented those aspirationsas he will roll off from row eight. "We didn't find the speed we were looking for with the red set of tires (Firestone alternate red tires). Surprisingly we did lack a lot of grip." However, E.J. is optimistic that the long race will provide ample opportunity to find that sweet spot for a fast race car, and the 28-year-old will look to be aggressive to pick up spots when he can. "I believe we have a very strong car. Tomorrow is going to be a long race, a long day. We will be working hard with the strategies and having a good race craft, making every single move on track that we can."
This also wasn't the qualifying result James Hinchcliffe was looking for after his first career win in St. Petersburg. Despite being extremely quick in the open test at Barber during Spring Training, the Go Daddy team has struggled to find speed so far this weekend. The mayor of Hinchtown will start 20th on Sunday. "We didn't have the quickest car, but had enough for Q2 … got held up by another car and ended up getting knocked out." Hinch remained optimistic as usualand looked to an advantage he has over some of his competitors. "It's frustrating but we've got an extra set of reds than most (those who qualified ahead of him) in the race and maybe degradation will come into it tomorrow." The current championship points leader is still confident he and his team can make the adjustments necessary to earn a strong result tomorrow. "W e'll keep fighting and hopefully get the Go Daddy car up in a good position by the end of the day."
As for Andretti Autosport's Firestone Indy Lights drivers, the day went quite well. Carlos Muñoz led the field for pole – his second consecutive, and Zach Veach wound up fifth for tomorrow's Legacy Indy Lights 100.
Muñoz was very happy with the team's effort in preparing a fast car, helping to earn him his third career Firestone Indy Lights Sunoco Pole Award. His fast lap of 1:13.8509 is a track record in a Firestone Indy Lights car, and was recorded with 17 minutes remaining in the 45-minute session. Carlos finished seventh in St. Petersburg and will fight for his third career race win tomorrow.
Zach Veach will participate in his second career Firestone Indy Lights race tomorrow from the fifth starting spot. After holding the top spot for a short while, Zach dropped back a few positions. The team decided to put on a new set of tires to make a run for pole, and with two minutes left, Zach was running a lap good enough for third place on the starting grid. Unfortunately a red flag brought out by Gabby Chavez stalled that run and ended the session. Chavez was positioned fourth at the time of the incident, and lost his best lap, but since his second best lap was still slightly quicker than Veach's best, the positions remain the same. The young American finished fifth in St. Petersburgand will look for a strong result on Sunday.
You can catch all the action from Birmingham starting at 2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640). Coverage will begin with the airing of Sunday's Firestone Indy Lights race and be followed by all of the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage starting at 3 p.m. If you can't make it to the television, listen along with the broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, on SiriusXM (Channel 211) and www.IndyCar.com.
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 Barber Motorsports Park.