Leeds, Ala. – With the coveted pole position on the line, IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay came through when it counted, earning his best qualifying effort at the immaculately groomed Barber Motorsports Park. His previous best start had been 11th a year ago. The pole marked his third career accomplishment.
“My big concern on the last run was my previous lap when I didn’t get a good run,” he said. “Usually, the first lap is the best one but on the second lap, the time started coming down and coming out of turn six, I was only two-tenths down, so I thought this might be pretty good. I had been at a deficit in turns 12 and 13 all weekend, and I knew what I had to do to fix it but it was hard to do. I just put it all together on the last lap and now I know what I have to do tomorrow. I put it together at the right time, and it (the pole) is the great place to start.
“Tire gradation is very tricky around this place, and we will have to start working on this tonight. It is funny how much everything changes after qualifying. Tonight, everything will get undone, and it will be just like a yard sale in the garage area as everyone is trying to protect the rear tires and the grip.”
Qualifications set the starting field for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the second race of the IZOD IndyCar Series season.
Driving the DHL Chevrolet owned by Andretti Autosport, Hunter-Reay topped the Firestone Fast Six competitors and set a track record in doing so. His speed around the 2.3-mile road course was a rapid 123.422 miles per hour. The old record had been set by Will Power a year ago at 118.535 mph.
In last 12 months, a diamond grind had smoothed out the bumps in the track, setting the stage for the record runs. All 26 competitors eclipsed the previous standard.
Hunter-Reay’s pole was a victory for all teams except for Team Penske, as that team had taken the speed honors in the previous three races.
Power earned the second starting position with a speed of 122.976 mph in the Verizon Team Penske.
“We’ve been struggling, and I feel lucky to be second fast,” Power commented. “Once Scott (Dixon) laid down his lap, I didn’t think anyone could beat him. The competition is so close, it is unbelievable. We just have to get the message out that we have a very tough series.
Second-row starting positions went to the Honda-powered entries of youthful Tristan Vautier at 122.919 mph and Scott Dixon at 122.914 mph.
“I feel very lucky,” Vautier, who admits he learns every time he gets into the car. “We set back to zero each time out, and we want to work from zero each weekend.”
Dixon took note that his Ganassi team is making steady progress after getting off to a rough start two weeks ago.
Rounding out the top-10 qualifiers were Charlie Kimball, 2012 pole winner Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson, Sebastian Saavedra and fan-favorite A. J. Allmendinger.
Takuma Sato provisionally made the Firestone Fast Six but was eliminated from the final speed run due to a blocking penalty assessed by IndyCar’s Race Control. The penalty was for his block on Wilson.
Vautier was a last-minute replacement, but he only managed a small number of laps as his car had to be hurriedly returned to the paddock to make a final qualification run.
In the three rounds of qualifications, Dixon took speed honors with the first group and Vautier with the second group. Dixon captured round two while Hunter-Reay performed his magic in the final round.