Former series champion Wade Cunningham returned to the top of the timesheets in an Indy Lights qualifying session for the first time in two years as he guided one of the many Sam Schmidt Motorsport entries to pole position for the Kansas Lottery 100.
The Kiwi, who won his title in 2005 but has been a sporadic returnee to the series ever since, posted a two-lap qualifying average of 187.458mph to claim his first pole since the Watkins Glen road course event in 2007. It is his eighth career pole, edging him closer to all-time leader Thiago Medeiros, but Cunningham is experienced enough to know that the job is only half done.
“I thought the Panther guys were going to put up a challenge, especially after their strength in pre-season oval testing, but I'm just really pleased with the effort that the guys put in," he said, "It was kind of a late deal getting started this season and, being a four-car team, it's pretty tough to get it all working in the same direction. We've made a lot of progress in the past two weekends, but it's good to come back to an oval. I love oval racing, and here we are, on the pole.”
Colombian rookie Sebastian Saavedra qualified second to keep up AFS/Andretti Green's good record in 2009. Along with JR Hildebrand, the familiar red-and-yellow machines have been at the front in each of the three rounds, and Kansas provided Saavedra's third top three start in four qualifying sessions.
“It was a great run for my team," the German F3 graduate commented, "We knew the time to beat was going to be really close, but I've been very happy all weekend, knowing that the car was great. The tyres were incredible during the whole two laps, and the guys did an awesome job with the set-up, but we have to keep concentrating. Now our focus is the race - that's where the real points are. We're thinking about the championship, so we're going to try to do our best tomorrow and keep it going.”
Ana Beatriz was third as the second of the Schmidt quartet, clocking her best qualifying spot of the year to date and extending her streak of top ten starts to eight.
“It was a pretty good run," the Brazilian reported, "The Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt car was great, and I think it will be very good for the race. We should be able to improve our position.”
Defending Kansas race winner Hildebrand will line up fourth on Sunday, while British rookie Pippa Mann finally underlined Panther's pre-season testing form with a top five slot.
Having had his Winners Circle car rebuilt after the fire that halted his race in Long Beach, series points leader Junior Strous qualified 17th on his first acquaintance with the American-style, single-car, oval qualifying format.