LONG BEACH, Calif. – When Alexander Rossi wins a pole in the NTT IndyCar Series, he normally goes on to win the race.
In fact, three of his five career victories have come from the pole. Rossi hopes that trend continues after winning the pole on Saturday for the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The Andretti Autosport driver, who scored his first victory in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016, knocked five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon off the pole at the end of Saturday’s qualifying session.
Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda grabbed the pole with a fast lap at 1:06.4811 for a speed of 106.569 mph around the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street course. Dixon’s Honda had turned a lap at 1:06.7479 (106.143 mph).
“It’s hard out there,” Rossi said afterwards. “It’s amazing how tight it continues to be. We say it every year, but it’s crazy. That was exponentially harder than last year, but a huge hats off to the boys on the 27 car. To be able to continue the development, push forward for race week, coming into a race like this is a pretty big testament to them.
“It’s easier to focus on the race if you were bad the year before, but we couldn’t rest on our laurels, and we struggled a little bit yesterday, just kind of putting it all together. But we made some good changes overnight, and obviously very pleased to have been able to pull it off there at the end.”
The streets of Long Beach are considered a tough place to pass, but Rossi doesn’t think so.
“I don’t know how true that is,” Rossi said. “I don’t think it’s that hard to pass. But starting from pole really opens up a lot of opportunities from a strategy standpoint and just it seems this year more than other years clean air makes a pretty big difference in how you’re able to kind of manage the tires and whether or not you can make them last.
“I think it’s a good thing from that standpoint. Obviously, we’ve got to get to Turn 1 fast, which is a whole ‘nother challenge because it’s quite a long run down there. But yeah, it’s going to be a hard day for sure.
“There’s probably 15 pretty hungry and fast race cars right behind us.”
Dixon will line up on the outside of row one and expects quite a battle on the track.
“It was pretty decent,” Dixon said. “We kept it pretty simple in Q3 and just did one run. I think the rest of the group did a couple, a couple sets of tires, but the PNC Bank car has been strong all weekend. I think our black tire run has been very good all weekend. They seemed to hang on pretty good.
“Qualifying there we kind of misjudged and a bit of miscommunication, and kind of aborted the second lap. We started catching Rossi on his lap and thought that was going to ruin us a little bit, and then I thought that was us done, but apparently, we had another lap.
“All in all, we left a little bit on the table maybe. Whether we could have got to that pole time I’m not too sure, but congrats to Andretti and Alex, so yeah, starting on the front row, it’s a good starting spot. Hopefully, we can make something work tomorrow.”
Team Penske’s Will Power was third at 1:06.8748 (105.941 mph) in his Chevrolet followed by both of his teammates. Josef Newgarden was fourth at 1:06.9096 (105.886 mph) and Simon Pagenaud fifth at 1:07.1877 (105.448 mph).
Graham Rahal’s Honda rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:07.3052 (105.264 mph).
Among the drivers that missed the final round of qualifying was 2010 Long Beach winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who qualified seventh, and last week’s winner Takuma Sato, who was eighth.
Swedish rookie Felix Rosenqvist was the second fastest driver in the group that would have advanced into the Fast Six, but lost his best lap of that session when he locked up the brakes on his Honda and slid into the tire barrier in turn nine.
By bringing out the red flag, Rosenqvist lost his two fastest laps. He will instead start 12th.