IPS: Andretti grabs first career pole in St. Pete

Three generations of Andrettis stood huddled around a scoring monitor on pit lane watching as the last two cars completed their single lap qualifying run around the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg, Florida downtown street circuit. The youngest of the...

Three generations of Andrettis stood huddled around a scoring monitor on pit lane watching as the last two cars completed their single lap qualifying run around the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg, Florida downtown street circuit. The youngest of the clan, Marco Andretti, had already recorded a lap at 93.472 miles per hour but the two cars yet to qualify had been faster in practice.

When a jubilant cheer rose from the extended family gathered around the monitor, it was official. Marco Andretti had earned the pole position* for his first Menards Infiniti Pro Series race. Well-wishers and media members descended on the younger Andretti while Grandfather Mario and father Michael spread the word via cell phone.

Andretti's driving style transformed overnight, from overly aggressive to smooth and fast, after his Andretti Green Racing crew made improvements to the car. "The more balanced the car is, the easier it is on me and the easier it is to drive."

Marco Andretti's first test in an Infiniti Pro Series car came ten days ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he promptly spun on his first run. "It's all about finding the limits," said Andretti. "Now I know my limits. I can't make mistakes here."

Jeff Simmons continued to show impressive speeds qualifying second at an average speed of 93.390 mph. "We had a solid run," said Simmons. "I left some on the table there and Marco was able to take advantage of that. We had a car that could come quicker, but I'm sure Marco did too. We're going to be on the front row for tomorrow's race. I'm pretty happy with where we are."

Wade Cunningham topped all three practice sessions leading up to qualifying but was unable to match his best lap of 92.957 mph set Saturday morning. Cunningham averaged 92.591 mph, nearly three-tenths of a second (0.2756 seconds) slower than his previous best.

Nick Bussell and Jaime Camara qualified fourth and fifth, respectively, citing problems with cold tires. "I got a little sideways starting my lap and that hurt us. I think it could have been a little bit better," said Bussell. "This is the first time we've done a single lap qualifying run and I wasn't sure what to expect. I left a little bit on the table out there and I'm sure the other drivers did too.

"If pressures aren't really up, then temperatures aren't really up and you're really on the edge out there. When you start your lap these tires are pretty cold."

Camara managed to get some heat in his front tires yet still found trouble under acceleration. "The front of the car was really good so I could dive in very fast but I had a problem with traction," Camara said. "I couldn't put the power down the way I wanted to. I think I lost a lot of time. It's hard to get the tires up to temperature so I think we have to practice getting out of the pits really fast. If we do that all the time it will help to get heat in the tires."

Camara's Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate Chris Festa qualified sixth. Festa managed to record 10 laps on Friday when fluid from his left sidepod leaked onto his tires causing the young Atlanta, Georgia driver to spin and make heavy contact with the wall. Due to the heavy damage Festa did not participate in Friday afternoon's practice session. He returned to the circuit this morning in a back up car where he was sixth fastest.

Al Unser qualified seventh followed by Arie Luyendyk and Travis Gregg in ninth. The St. Petersburg street circuit marks the first time Gregg has started further back than second. USAC oval track standout Jay Drake rounded out the top ten.

SIDE NOTE:

Rossella Manfrinato is a familiar face at IndyCar Series events. The young Italian woman worked as an engineer with Dallara in the Infiniti Pro Series. Now she's seeking to drive in the series. Manfrinato is one of six women invited to test an Infiniti Pro Series car with Kathryn Nunn Racing at Texas Motor Speedway. "I'm currently working as an engineer in the Fran Am Series," said Manfrinato, "this gives me time to pursue a ride in the Pro Series." Last weekend Manfrinato competed in SCCA National competition at Road Atlanta taking second pace in Formula Ford 2000. Manfrinato is hoping to secure a ride for the next event, the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

BREAKING NEWS #1:

*Pole position changed by officials after post-qualifying tech inspection.

Indy Racing League officials announced that Marco Andretti will be moved to the rear of the field of Sunday's Meanrds Infiniti Pro Series race after his Andretti Green Racing entry failed to pass post qualifying technical inspection. Grand Prix organizers announced the infraction as an illegal aerodynamic infraction.

BREAKING NEWS #2:

Per the Official Indy Racing League release on the penalty to Marco Andretti:

After hearing a protest from Andretti Green Racing, Roger Bailey, the executive director of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, has reinstated the pole position to driver Marco Andretti for Sunday's Menards Infiniti Pro Series Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

It was determined by Bailey that the spec variation did not improve performance and was unintentional.

Bailey stated that he has reinstated the pole position after hearing subsequent interviews and doing further due diligence.

Andretti Green Racing was initially penalized for an aerodynamic infraction and placed in the last position of the final starting field.

The team will be penalized a yet to be determined fine and/or points.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Arie Luyendyk , Sam Schmidt , Al Unser Sr. , Marco Andretti , Jeff Simmons , Jay Drake , Roger Bailey , Nick Bussell , Chris Festa , Travis Gregg , Rossella Manfrinato , Wade Cunningham , Jaime Camara