See full results from qualifying
Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe will share the front row of the grid for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, as Andretti Autosport emerged as the big winners in qualifying on Saturday afternoon in California. They will start the race just ahead of Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden.
"What a qualifying session," said Hunter-Reay at the end of the Firestone Fast Six in which the cars were ultimately separated by only just over a quarter of a second. "You never knew who was going to put in the best lap - it was anybody's session.
“It just comes down to this team giving me what I need when I need it," he added. "It's a good start for us, but tomorrow is going to be challenging. We have the standing start and a long day on the beach. We've been on the outside pole so many times here and finally got the big one.”
In a qualifying session with more than its fair share of upsets, the highest placed Ganassi car was Scott Dixon who will start the race from seventh place, while the best of the Penskes was Helio Castroneves who sealed himself ninth place on the grid alongside Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson.
The biggest shock of the afternoon was Will Power failing to progress from the first round, after he only managed to finish in seventh place in his group. He'll start from 14th place on Sunday, just behind Tony Kanaan who also narrowly failed to make it through from his round 1 group. Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Briscoe and Charlie Kimball all suffered similar fates, as did two former Long Beach winners Mike Conway and Takuma Sato.
Instead, it was two of the newest names in the Verizon IndyCar Series that managed to shine, with Jack Hawksworth making it through to the final round to start from fifth place and Carlos Munoz topping his first round group before having to settle for 11th place on the grid.
Full qualifying session results, including unofficial starting grid
In the first round, Group 1 saw Ryan Hunter-Reay go to the top early with an effort of 1:09.2518s putting him three tenths ahead of his Andretti Autosports team mate James Hinchcliffe by the midway point of the session. Hunter-Reay improved to 1:08.9917s with his next effort before the field then changed over to the alternate red-walled option tyres which immediately reshaped the standings, Josef Newgarden going top with a lap of 1:08.1419s three hundredths faster than Hinchcliffe's latest. Hunter-Reay responded with a lap of 1:08.0667s but this was quickly bettered by Sebastien Bourdais' 1:07.9060s. Hinchcliffe kept in touch with his own final effort, and Wilson popped into third ahead of Newgarden to shuffle Hunter-Reay back down to fifth ahead of Oriol Servia who was the final car to make it to the second round. That meant that Tony Kanaan, Mike Conway, Charlie Kimball and Carlos Huertas all lost out, as did last year's race winner Takuma Sato who was also penalised his two fastest laps for impeding Hunter-Reay during the session.
Group 2 saw all three Team Penske cars duelling it out for a spot in the second round alongside the likes of Scott Dixon, Ryan Briscoe and Simon Pagenaud, making it a fearsomely competitive line-up. Pagenaud set the pace on his second lap out of pit lane with a time of 1:09.0023s putting him three tenths ahead of Will Power, but Pagenaud was soon displaced from the top by Helio Castroneves and Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin. The Frenchman's subsequent improved time of 1:08.0761s was soon eclipsed first by Dixon and then by Castroneves going top with a time of 1:07.8860s, before Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz pulled off a last-minute upset to go to the top with a lap of 1:07.8746s as the chequered flag came out. That meant the Colombian rookie progressed to the second round along with Castroneves, Dixon, Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Jack Hawksworth, but it pushed Will Power out along with his team mate Juan Pablo Montoya. Also failing to progress were Briscoe, Aleshin, Sebastian Saavedra and Graham Rahal, who had been struggling for pace all day.
Setting the early pace in round 2 was Munoz with an opening effort of 1:08.5265s ahead of Newgarden, Bourdais and Wilson before everyone ducked into pit lane for new sets of red-walled tyres that would allow them to get serious in the remaining four minutes. Pagenaud immediately claimed the top spot with a new run of 1:08.2730s but then Castroneves improved on that by 0.1611s. Newgarden dug deep and found a 1:07.9105s to put him on top with Hinchcliffe, Hawksworth and Dixon all within a tenth of that standard with their own new efforts. However there was one last set of flying laps to come, and as the chequered flag came out the two French drivers Bourdais and Pagenaud vaulted their way to the top, Bourdais' 1:07.7913s proving just under six thousandths faster than Pagenaud. Newgarden's time was still good enough to keep him in third place, while a last-gasp effort from Hunter-Reay after the flag saw him finish the session in fourth ahead of Hawksworth and Hinchcliffe. Pushed out in the final seconds was the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon who ended up seventh, meaning he would watch the final Firestone Fast Six round from the sidelines alongside Andretti, Castroneves, Wilson, Munoz and Servia.
All of which meant that the final six consisted of five Honda cars and only one Chevrolet-powered entry, the #11 KVSH Racing driven by Bourdais - not a single Penske or Ganassi had made it through to the final round, and only Andretti Autosport had managed to get more than one of its entries through to the pole shoot-out. Pagenaud and Hawksworth laid down early bankers, but the majority of drivers kept their powder dry until over halfway through the ten-minute session. Newgarden then went top with a time of 1:08.0097s some three hundredths faster than Hinchcliffe, before Bourdais went faster with his effort of 1:07.9580s as the session entered its final minute. Hinchcliffe bettered the Frenchman's time by 0.0177s with his own response, only to then be muscled aside in turn by a last-second effort from his team-mate Hunter-Reay who clinched pole with a time of 1:07.8219s. Hinchcliffe held on to second place ahead of Bourdais who will start from the second row alongside Newgarden, while a late improvement from Hawksworth put the English rookie just ahead of Pagenaud on the grid for the standing start to the race on Sunday afternoon.
Full qualifying session times and results, plus unofficial starting grid