But it’s Andretti Autosport driver Hunter-Reay that will start on the pole position in Sunday’s race that will feature a standing start for the first time since the final Champ Car Series race here in 2008, a race won by Will Power.
Hunter-Reay, the 2010 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner, put the DHL Dallara/Honda on the pole at the very end of the Fast Six with a lap at 1:07.821 (104.462 miles per hour) around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street course.
That knocked Andretti teammate James Hinchcliffe off the pole after he ran a fast time of 1:07.9403 (104.280 mph) in another Honda. Three-time Long Beach winner Sebastien Bourdais was the fastest Chevrolet driver with a lap at 1:07.9680 (104.253 mph) followed by Honda driver Josef Newgarden’s 1:08.0097 (104.173 mph). Rookie Jack Hawksworth was fifth at 1:08.0525 (104.108 mph) in another Honda with Honda driver Simon Pagenaud rounding out the Fast Six at 1:08.0732 (104.076 mph).
It was an extremely tight qualification session with the Fast Six separated by just two-tenths of a second. And five of the Fast Six were Honda drivers – giving that car manufacturer a sense of pride to do that in race sponsored by long-time rival Toyota.
Although the historic Power Teams didn’t make the Fast Six, that doesn’t mean they won’t be factors in Sunday’s race
“I’ve seen Will Power win this race from like 12th,” Hinchcliffe said. “We’ve all seen what can happen in these races. They’re very long, especially with the new pit close rule under yellow. That can get a guy up real quick. So it’s definitely bizarre to not see them up there. But at the same time, we know they’re going to be strong in the race.”
Pagenaud believes it’s a byproduct of the modern style of IndyCar racing.
“I think it’s very tight,” Pagenaud said. “The competition is really high. If you look at the lap time at the end of the Fast Six between P2 and P6 is only a 10th of a second. So you can only imagine a 10th of a second driving a car at this speed how detailed you have to be at your driving like Sebastien was saying. It’s just super competitive. And really I think it’s the best drivers all around in IndyCar.
The pole winner, however, believes that with a combined seven drivers between the two teams at Team Penske and Ganassi Racing it is rare when none of them were able to advance into the Fast Six.
“That’s very unusual,” Hunter-Reay said. “I don’t even know when the last time that happened is. But I guarantee it was a pretty long time ago. That just shows you right now the series is so tight; a tenth of a second here, half tenth there is such an impact on the outcome of your qualifying session.
“If you just lock a brake here or there or miss a curve by a couple inches it could mean the difference between advancing on to the Fast Six or staying in.”
The signature moment in Hunter-Reay’s career was winning the 2012 IndyCar Series champions. But the signature race victory of his career was the 2010 win in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“Absolutely – I had the opportunity of a lifetime at hand with Andretti,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was the third race into the season. We didn’t know if we’d have the sponsorship to continue on. All the IZOD folks were here. My mom passing just a little bit before that, and this was her favorite race. So to put it all together was a career defining moment. It was a personal moment. I’ve had so much history here. My wife and I met here. We got engaged here. It’s definitely a special event.
“There is no event like it. This is definitely the template for road and street courses.”