It was qualifying day in sunny southern California today as six Andretti Autosport drivers (IndyCar and Indy Lights) took to the 11-turn street circuit all hoping to claim the coveted first starting position. After the checkers fell, the time charts showed that the IZOD IndyCar Series is full of fierce competitors and extremely tough competition with the first half of the field all posting times within one second of each other. The Firestone Indy Lights series showed competition to be just as close as drivers leap-frogged their way around the top three.
Ryan Hunter-Reay will start from the outside of the front row for tomorrow's 80-lap race after an intense qualifying session left him just a half-tenth a of second away from the pole position. "That's just unfortunate – to lose it by a half tenth (of a second) hurts more than losing it by four tenths. It was close but today really doesn't count, we'll go get them tomorrow. We're starting from the front row so things are looking up for us we'll keep our heads up." The reigning champ won here in 2010 (starting from the second position then as well) and hopes to see his name yet again added to the historic Long Beach victory lane tomorrow.
The Mayor of Hinchtown was also the victim of intensely close lap times today as he just nearly missed the Firestone Fast Six qualifying in seventh. "Up and down day, I guess," said Hinch. "A little disappointed to be starting seventh in the Go Daddy car. You know, to miss the Firestone Fast Six by such a small margin there, it's a bit heartbreaking. We had a good car, we missed it just that tiny little bit. It's obviously an improvement over Barber where we were stuck down in 20th, but not where we want to be just yet. So, we'll put our heads together and try to come up with a strong race car and hopefully we can have a better day tomorrow."
Slowly but surely, E.J. Viso is finding his groove with Andretti Autosport. The Venezuelan has made his best qualifying effort since joining the team here at the Grand Prix of Long Beach where he will leave the grid in tenth – a step in the right direction from starting 22nd (St. Pete) and 16th (Barber). Although the progress has been slow, Viso remains optimistic and hopes to continue making steps forward. "The top 10 is not bad after the beginning of the weekend that we had; I think we are recovering pretty decently. Three out of the four the cars in our team are starting in the top 10 which is going to benefit us in a race like Long Beach. Starting in the front part of the grid is definitely a benefit. We are going to try to do our best to climb positions as soon as possible and make a good strategy for the race."
Marco Andretti finished today's qualifying session full of disappointment, as he was penalized and forced to forfeit his two fastest laps of the day. During the closing moments of qualifying, Marco was flagged for blocking, and was eliminated from the Firestone Fast Six. Andretti believes that he has a much faster car than where he will be starting in the field, but is now more determined to make a push for victory lane tomorrow afternoon. "Today was tough because when a bunch of cars get backed up and I am the only one penalized, it can be pretty frustrating. I don't think anyone gained from this decision, but I do know that our car was way better than where we are starting tomorrow."
In Firestone Indy Lights news, Carlos Munoz picked up his third consecutive pole position for the season. Carlos seemingly saved the best for last as he headed into his final lap of qualifying. As the session drew to a close, Carlos squeaked out his fastest lap of the day allotting him a P1 start for tomorrow's race. "I pushed like it was my last lap in the race car. I didn't do 100 percent, I did 200 percent. I pushed a lot, I was near the wall a lot of times… the car was awesome. We improved a lot over the weekend and I think I'll have a really good car for the race."
Zach Veach continues to improve as he penciled in a personal best qualifying run this season. Zach will start tomorrow's race from the third position, but also has the satisfaction of knowing he was the fastest rookie in the field today. "This is my first time coming here to Long Beach. I spent a lot of the day learning a lot on how to get up to speed with the car. This place can be very unforgiving in a lot of ways. We learned a lot and qualified P3, and we will do what we can tomorrow morning."
You can catch all the action from Long Beach by tuning into NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640). Coverage will begin on Sunday with the Firestone Indy Lights race starting at 3 p.m. followed by live IZOD IndyCar Series action at 4 p.m. ET. 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 the Grand Prix of Long Beach.