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Hinchcliffe takes Long Beach Indy Lights pole

Canada's James Hinchcliffe gambled on strategy to claim pole position for round three of the Firestone Indy Lights series.

Having claimed top spot in the timed session at St Petersburg, James Hinchcliffe returned the #2 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car to Firestone Indy Lights pole as the series ventured back onto the streets of Long Beach.

The Canadian's second pole in three races came courtesy of a 1min 14.6261secs lap that proved good enough to see off the challenge of Barber Motorsports Park polewinner JK Vernay, as the top seven cars crammed into 0.9681secs in the 60-minute session. The gap between Hinchcliffe and tenth-place starter Junior Strous was 1.2969secs.

"The lap was pretty good," reported Hinchcliffe, who has started in the top five in each of the three races this season, "We sort of had to take to make a compromise with the way our fuel strategy played out to be done a little bit earlier. We had to use that second set of tyres a bit sooner than the other guys. We knew the track was going to be a bit better at the end, but our hands were tied.

"It was the longest ten minutes of my life, just standing there. JK did put in a quicker lap, but it was under yellow. Congrats to him, but a bit of a tough break for him. But we've had some luck against us, so it's nice for us to have something go our way a bit. Really happy to be on pole."

Vernay, however, is well positioned to make it three consecutive victories to start the season, after producing a best lap of 1min 14.7829secs in the #7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. The Frenchman, in his rookie Indy Lights campaign, has started on the front row in each of the three races this season.

"I have to judge the limit to where I was in the test," he admitted, "Now I'm qualifying, I know what I can do with the car. It's a good thing for tomorrow, but I'm really disappointed [to lose a better lap to yellow flags] because we were really fast today. We had like five or six yellow flags, it was crazy. Each time we came on track with new tyres, there was a yellow. I did only two laps with each set of tyres, and it's not enough to do a good lap time."

Charlie Kimball will share row two with Sebastian Saavedra, while the American's AFS/Andretti team-mate Martin Plowman will line-up on row three with Canada's Philip Major. It is Kimball's second consecutive top three start, while rookie Major will roll off from a career-best sixth.

"It was pretty busy to start with, and a lot of people were trying to be aggressive early," Kimball explained, "We kind of played our game with tyre strategy, and were waiting for the end to really bang the time in. We were quick on the first set and then quick again on the second set - I think we did a quick lap there that was P1 for a minute - but 'Hinch' put a second set on a little earlier, gambled that it would be clean and then there would be yellows at the end, and it paid off.

"When I was going for the big one on the end, right on the last lap, I caught a yellow, and it kind of messed up the flow. This morning on race-distance tires we were P4 against guys on fresh tyres so, come race day tomorrow, we're in good shape."

Atlantic Series stalwart Tonis Kasemets, meanwhile, qualified seventh for his first Firestone Indy Lights race, and will share row four with Gustavo Yacaman. Stefan Wilson and Junior Strous round out the top ten.

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James Hinchcliffe - Team Moore Racing   [pic credit: IRL/McQueeney]
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