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Power sees off Hunter-Reay for pole

16 April 2011

Ryan Hunter-Reay came close, but in the end Will Power would not be denied a third consecutive road/street course pole position at Long Beach.

His Penske team mate Ryan Briscoe had a disappointing Round 2 and ended up qualifying in twelfth position, while both Ganassi team mates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon missed out on the final Firestone Fast Six. Dario put it down to a combination of the car and driver not quite getting the best performance, while Dixon was blaming Will Power for blocking him.

Full times and positions for the qualifying session (and for practice 3) are available in the results section.

Qualifying Round 1

Will Power topped the times in Group 1 of Round 1, with Dario Franchitti coming second ahead of Mike Conway and Scott Dixon. Helio Castroneves and Oriol Servia also progressed to the next round. On his return to IndyCar racing at short notice, former race winner Paul Tracy failed to find decent pace and finished at the bottom of Group 1's timings, putting him two rows on the grid behind Sebastien Bourdais who also failed to progress into Round 2.

With the fastest time in practice on Friday, Ryan Briscoe had the choice of whether to run his group in the first or the second time slot, and opted for the later Group 2 slot despite this giving a mere five minute turnaround between the end of Round 1 and the start of Round 2. His group was markedly quicker than the earlier one, with Tony Kanaan an early leader before Briscoe took over at the top. With two minutes to go, Ryan Hunter-Reay dislodged him from the top spot and when Takuma Sato missed his braking into turn 1 and buried his car deep into the tyre barrier, the local waved yellows prevented anyone else from improving their times. Other incidents included Simona de Silvestro whitewalling her tyres with a heavy glancing blow against the barriers through turn 8, while Graham Rahal and JR Hildebrand nearly collided after Hildebrand came out on track from pit road right in front of Rahal, who was on a flying lap. Rahal was not impressed with Hildebrand's confession that "I didn't see you."

As well as Hunter-Reay and Briscoe, Alex Tagliani, Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Justin Wilson all progressed. Wilson - still struggling with the wrist brace for the injuries he received at St Petersburg - won a close battle to see off Marco Andretti for the final spot. Marco was disappointed and confessed that he had failed to get the best out of the car.

Qualifying Round 2

Mike Conway was first out on track in Round 2 setting an initial benchmark of 1:11.499, but times fell quickly with James Hinchcliffe promptly shaving a full second off that time. Battle was joined by the big name runners including Franchitti, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay, the latter becoming the first driver under the 1:10 mark with a little over three minutes left in the session.

Mike Conway wasn't giving up easily however, and was back to the top with a time of 1:09.518 with less than two minutes remaining. Will Power went top with a minute to go but was displaced at the last second by Ryan Hunter-Reay, while Ryan Briscoe was strangely muted throughout the session having made adjustments to the car's handling that simply weren't delivering. He lagged at the bottom of the timesheets, frustrated by not getting a clean run and finally came into the pits before the chequered flag complaining of loose handling. Despite failing to qualify, Briscoe was still a mere 0.2s off the Firestone Fast Six cut.

A major surprise saw both Ganassi cars of Franchitti and Dixon fail to make it through to the Firestone Fast Six for the first time this season. They finished seventh and eighth, which was behind Hunter-Reay, Power, Wilson, Conway, Castroneves and Servia. Franchitti - who will be starting from seventh for the second consecutive race - admitted that he was missing fractions of seconds in pace and blamed himself as much as the car, while Dixon blamed Power for holding him up on his final flying lap - the second time in consecutive races that the two antipodeans have not seen eye-to-eye in qualifying. Tony Kanaan also commented that Power had held him up at a critical moment, but added it was "just an observation", not a criticism in his case.

Qualifying Round 3 - Firestone Fast Six

Mike Conway was quickly at the top of the Firestone Fast Six timesheets and was fist under the 70s mark with a 1:109.939 ahead of Justin Wilson and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who locked up cutting all the corners at turn 8 in his own early run.

Conway and Will Power both struggled with grip as the session wore on, both losing their rear ends and power drifting as they pushed their cars to the limit. Power still managed to find enough grip to go top with an unbeatable 1:09.065s with two minutes to go and once again clinch pole: while Ryan Hunter-Reay improved his time to take second as the chequered flag came out, albeit 0.076s off Power's time after the car got slightly loose going through turn 10.

Mike Conway continued to run strongly enough to hold on to third place. Oriol Servia left it late to come out on track, but put in a last gasp lap to displace Justin Wilson for fourth, leaving Helio Castroneves pushed back into sixth place.

Practice 3

In the morning practice before qualifying, Ryan Briscoe had once again beaten Will Power for the top time, albeit by just 0.038s. The third Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, was a disappointing 13th place in the final timesheets. Conquest's Sebastian Saavedra was a surprise sixth, while KV Racing Technology showed strong form to put their three drivers Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato and EJ Viso in 7th, 9th and 11th positions respectively. The top 19 cars were separated by less than a second.

Oriol Servia supplied the only noteworthy incident of the morning session when he slid into the barriers at turn 6 and damaged the front of his Newman/Haas in the process.



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