Andretti Autosport Verizon IndyCar Series driver Alexander Rossi has taken pole position for the 2018 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach after a stunning performance on Saturday. The #27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda put in a fantastic lap in the final round to take his second-career pole position in his home state of California.
After having led two of the three practice sessions in the lead up to qualifying, Rossi was the favourite for pole as the session got under-way. He eased his way through the first two rounds of qualifying to get into the Firestone fast six, before sitting back and waiting for the moment to take the pole.
Whilst his rivals were out on the track, Rossi waited in pit-lane and gave himself one less lap than the other five drivers. This didn’t matter, however, with Rossi’s first lap in the session being a scintillating 1:06.5528. The time was more than good enough for pole, with second-placed Will Power just under four-tenths of a second back with a 1:06.9054.
Simon Pagenaud will line-up third in the #22 Penske, with the Frenchman half a tenth slower than Power. Scott Dixon will join Pagenaud on the second row of the grid, with Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden completing the top six that made it to the final round. The reigning champion, Newgarden, may have had a lap good enough to at least get onto the front row, but a last-lap hit against the wall at turn eight damaged his #1 car and left him crawling back to the pits.
One of the bigger surprises during qualifying was the absence of Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Firestone fast six. The Andretti driver looked to be right up there on pace with his team-mate Rossi, however a pit-exit violation in session two of qualifying put him on the rocky road to elimination. Hunter-Reay was given a drive-through penalty for the infraction right near the end of the session, costing him valuable time to set a good lap. His final lap looked like it was good enough to put him through, but a mistake on the entry to the final hairpin saw him agonizingly eliminated in seventh place.
Two more former Long Beach winners, James Hinchcliffe and Sebastien Bourdais, will line up eighth and ninth, with the rookie Robert Wickens unable to bag his second pole position of the season, qualifying his #6 car down in tenth.
Tony Kanaan and Jordan King were the last two drivers to make it through to the second round of qualifying. Just on the outside looking in was the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda of Ed Jones.
Further back, Max Chilton gave Carlin their best qualifying performance of their short Verizon IndyCar Series career. The British driver will line up fifteenth, with both team and driver hoping for a strong race after having a tough time in the first two rounds. Chilton’s team-mate Charlie Kimball was less fortunate. He will line up twenty-third on the grid.
Rookie Zach Veach looked as though he may have had the pace to get through to the second round, but he just missed out as the dirty track continued to evolve late in the first session of qualifying. He will start sixteenth.
Marco Andretti had yet another tough session in the #98 Andretti Herta Honda. He will start in the twentieth position after spinning late at turn one in the first session of qualifying. The spin cost him the chance of improving his lap-time, but it also cost Takuma Sato, who was then blocked on his last lap by the recovering Rahal. Sato will start two places further back in twenty-second place.
Finally, no one had a tougher session than reigning Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser. The rookie American hit the wall on the exit of turn nine and damaged the front-left corner of his #32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet. He was forced to take the car back to the pits without having set a lap. He will prop up the grid in twenty-fourth place.
With Andretti’s Alexander Rossi looking like the dominant driver at Long Beach, the question is now whether anyone will be able to usurp him in tomorrow’s race, or will he covert pole position to a race win to stake his claim in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series championship?
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach – Qualifying results:
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