Ryan Hunter-Reay Snatches Pole as Rossi Turns to Alternate Strategy

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SONOMA, Calif. – As track temperatures continued to rise steadily into the Sonoma afternoon, qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series finale went green.

Just 29 points separate championship leader Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi, and both contenders would be in different groups to begin qualifying, with Rossi taking to the 2.385-mile track first in Group 1 followed by Dixon in Group 2.

Qualifying Group 1 featured Will Power, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Spencer Pigot, James Hinchcliffe, Pietro Fittipaldi, Max Chilton, Colton Herta, and Matheus Leist. Simon Pagenaud led the first group with a time of 1:17.9171. Alexander Rossi followed with a time of 1:17.9283.

Will Power slotted in behind Rossi as he posted a 1:17.9290. Next was Takuma Sato who laid down a 1:18.0023. Marco Andretti circulated in 1:18.0472 while Graham Rahal rounded out the top 6 that will advance with a time of 1:18.2625. Pietro Fittipaldi, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot, Colton Herta, Max Chilton, and Matheus Leist went no further on the day.

Qualifying Group 2 saw Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Zach Veach, Santino Ferrucci, Ed Jones, Charlie Kimball, Jack Harvey, Jordan King, Carlos Munoz, Patricio O’Ward, Tony Kanaan, and Sebastien Bourdais take to the track.

Group 2 was decisively quicker at the top of the timesheets with Ryan Hunter-Reay leading the way with a 1:17.5068. Championship leader Scott Dixon crossed the line with a 1:17.5943.

Josef Newgarden followed with a time of 1:17.6219. Zach Veach moved up into fourth place in the closing seconds of the session with a time of 1:18.1307. Patricio O’Ward, making his IndyCar series debut, finished the session in fifth as he laid down a 1:18.1765.

Finally, Sebastien Bourdais put his #18 machine, complete with a brand new clutch, P6 with a time of 1:18.3676. Drivers not advancing from Group 2 include Ed Jones, Jack Harvey, Tony Kanaan, Santino Ferrucci, Carlos Munoz, Charlie Kimball, and Jordan King.

The top 6 from Groups 1 and 2 took the track in the second round of qualifying to determine the Firestone Fast Six. Ryan Hunter-Reay set a flying lap of 1:17.4470 leading the way from Josef Newgarden who crossed the line with a 1:17.4530. Scott Dixon posted a 1:17.5215.

Patricio O’Ward continued to impress on the Firestone reds with a time of 1:17.5585. Alexander Rossi found some pace and posted a 1:17.5711 while Marco Andretti capped of the Firestone Fast Six with a time of 1:17.5813. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Graham Rahal, Zach Veach, Sebastien Bourdais, and Takuma Sato will start 7-12, respectively.

Curiously, Will Power was in the pits as the checkered flag fell on the session.

The Firestone Fast Six saw Ryan Hunter-Reay take his now familiar spot at the top of the session with a time of 1:17.6277 as he clinched the Verizon P1 Award. Scott Dixon seemingly had pole locked down with a time of 1:17.7599 until RHR improved as time in the session expired and took a point in the championship away from Dixon.

Dixon went off at Turn 9 on his last flying lap. Josef Newgarden will start P3 with a time of 1:17.7937. Marco Andretti, one of three Andretti cars that will start on the first three rows tomorrow, posted a time of 1:17.7999.

Patricio O’Ward ended his fantastic day of qualifying with a time of 1:17.9737, good enough to start his first ever IndyCar race from P5.

The story of the session, however, was Alexander Rossi who posted a time of 1:18.0019 on the black-sidewall Firestone primary tires. He was the only driver of the session to go out on the primary tire. This strategy, however, means that Rossi will begin the race on a tire that has proven to degrade much slower this weekend.

If Rossi can find pace early on from the primary tire and stave off the rear tire degradation that has plagued drivers all weekend, then he might just find himself on the top step of the podium tomorrow.

The green flag drops for the IndyCar season finale tomorrow at 3:30 PM local time, 6:30 Eastern, as Scott Dixon will look to fend off the challenge from Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

Of course, Dixon will have Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay to contend with as the cars make the run up the hill to a tough Turn 2.

Rossi, meanwhile, will start alongside series debutante Patricio O’Ward who may look to make an aggressive start. Will Power, used to starting at the front at Sonoma, will start from the unfamiliar position of P7. Tune in to the race live on NBCSN and follow along with coverage at Open-Wheels.com.

Image courtesy of INDYCAR Media.

Justin Reschke

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