LONG BEACH, Calif. – Ryan Hunter-Reay added another memorable achievement to his impressive list of accomplishments at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach by winning the Verizon P1 Pole on Saturday.
Meantime, it was an uncharacteristic day for Verizon IndyCar Series power teams Team Penske and Target/Chip Ganassi Racing as no driver from those squads advanced into the Firestone Fast Six.
Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to IndyCar racing continues to be a slow process as the Team Verizon driver made contact with the wall during his time in the first qualifying session, damaging the rear suspension.
Montoya and his Chevrolet-powered ride did not advance out of that session and will start 16th in the 23-car lineup in Sunday’s 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“I was on the Red Tires (the faster alternate rubber compound) and only needed two-tenths of a second but I tried a little too hard going through that corner,” Montoya explained. “I thought we had a really good car but we’ll be starting back and will have to be creative.
“Prior to that I thought the car was really good and we were gaining on it. I thought we had a competitive car but one of the harder things is at St. Pete the only time I was on Red Tires was in the race and here I went out on Red Tires and had no idea what they were going to do. I felt at a huge disadvantage. It’s part of the process. It really sucks because I thought I was fast enough to be in the Fast Six, no problem.
“We’re not doing ourselves any favors.”
It wasn’t much better for IndyCar’s road course warrior Will Power. Fresh off a commanding victory in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Power didn’t get a clean lap in his session and did not advance. He will start 14th in the Team Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet.
“I didn’t have it on the second lap when the tires are really good and it’s kind of weird because we had a good car in practice but it wasn’t quite good on Reds,” Power said. “It’s a real pity. We’re starting 14th and we’ll have to do what we can. It’s all Hondas. There are only three Chevys in the Top 12. Honda has its stuff together right now.
“We’ll have to go back and have a think. The fact the pits are closed now we’re going to have to hope it plays out in our favor. The pits need to be open because these guys up front are running a good race in qualifying but they can get screwed by the pits closed during a yellow. It’s basically a drive-through penalty.
“It is unusual that no Team Penske or Ganassi driver is in the Fast Fix but when you look at the competition these days who knows who will be on pole, ever.”
Helio Castroneves was the last hope for a Team Penske driver to make the Fast Six but he barely missed it and will line up ninth in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
“We changed absolutely everything and Team Penske did a great job to have a good qualifying effort but the Reds really changed my car,” Castroneves said. “We didn’t have it in the second session. Hopefully Sunday with a good start and Roger Penske calling my strategy I’m counting on him.
“My teammates were really fast in practice. It’s surprising they didn’t make it. But Roger is the master on this type of strategy. We want to start in front not where we are. But with a standing start we might be able to pick up a few positions.”
As for the four Ganassi Racing drivers, Scott Dixon will start seventh in Dallara/Chevrolet, Tony Kanaan 13th, Ryan Briscoe 18th and Charlie Kimball 19th – all in Dallara/Chevrolets.
“In the first round the Target car was good and we had good speed in the session I felt,” Dixon admitted. “We made a lot of progress from yesterday to today, and again from this morning’s practice through to qualifying. We have some work to do tomorrow from our starting position, but we will be prepared.”