Sears Point: Rahal Letterman Racing qualifying report



SONOMA, California - Ryan Hunter-Reay (#17 Ethanol Dallara/Honda/Firestone) and his Rahal Letterman Racing machine got back to its previous road-course qualifying form on a sparkling Saturday in Sonoma, California as the Watkins Glen winner put the blue-and-green machine in the eighth spot for Sunday's PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil IndyCar GP of Sonoma County.

For the first time in the last three road course IndyCar Series events, Hunter-Reay powered through the first qualifying session and vaulted into the second of three qualifying outings, hanging up a best time of 1:17.0378 around the 2.303-mile Infineon Raceway road course to qualify eighth. The result earned Hunter-Reay his seventh top-10 starting spot of the 2008 season and his third on a road course this year.

"We're not where we want to be, because I think anything other than being in the Firestone Fast Six is a disappointment, but the guys did a great job on the car and I think we can race from here tomorrow," Hunter-Reay said. "The engineering staff turned a 14th-place car into an eighth-place one overnight, and we had something for the rest of the field until we got to the slow-speed sections of the track."

In a format where the top six cars from the opening session would move on to a second round - and from there to the Firestone Fast Six - Hunter-Reay and the Ethanol machine stormed through the first 20-minute session, finishing fourth with a best lap of 1:17:5547. He ran four consecutive laps in the 77-second range to end the first session, marking his best such streak of the weekend to that point.

The RLR crewmen showed their skills as the second half of the field went out for their session as they pulled the gear stack out of the Ethanol car and replaced it with a fresh one after the car showed signs of slipping in neutral during the first outing.

With a fresh set of gears securely mounted, Hunter-Reay snapped off his three best laps of the day just prior to pitting for fresh tires at the middle of the second session, then rolled out and shaved even more time off his best effort with his next two laps. But heading into his last trip around the 12-turn circuit, he needed to find a tenth of a second in order to move on to the Firestone Fast Six. He had the time going into the first two turns before Justin Wilson - attempting a similar last dash effort - went off course and threw dirt on the track in front of Hunter-Reay, ending his chance to move up.

"We were as fast as anyone in the first half of the lap and I think we could have caused some trouble," Hunter-Reay surmised. "But we just didn't have the whole package today. We'll work on it some more and get it tomorrow.

The 80-lap event gets underway tomorrow at 2:30 local time (5:30 p.m.) and can be seen live on ESPN. The day starts with a 30-minute warmup session for the Indy Cars at 9:45 a.m.

-credit: rlr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Ryan Hunter-Reay