Sonoma: Sam Schmidt Motorsports qualifying report

J.K. VERNAY NABS POLE AT INFINEON RACEWAY; MANN AND ELLIS SHOW WELL; MAJOR LOOKS TO CHARGE SONOMA, Calif. - J.K. Vernay is a man on a mission this weekend, and he's laid down the first blow to the rest of the Firestone Indy Lights field ...


SONOMA, Calif. - J.K. Vernay is a man on a mission this weekend, and he's laid down the first blow to the rest of the Firestone Indy Lights field on Saturday afternoon by winning the pole for Sunday's Carneros 100 at the Infineon Raceway.

His teammates followed in seventh (Pippa Mann), ninth (Alex Ellis), and 10th (Philip Major).

Vernay just beat out Charlie Kimball by .04 seconds for the top spot. This is Vernay's third pole of the season, and winning the Sunoco Pole Award earned Vernay a $5,000 bonus. It's a great starting spot for him as he looks to get back into victory lane on Sunday and extend his lead in the points standings with just four events remaining on the schedule.

Mann made a strong return to the cockpit in her first day back after having hand surgery and skipping the Mid-Ohio round. Her seventh-place qualifying spot is the highest ever for Mann on a road/street circuit in Firestone Indy Lights. She feels that this result was a long time coming and is optimistic that the race will be a good one for her. She has a great shot to improve upon her career-best finish of eighth on Sunday.

Ellis also showed well in his Firestone Indy Lights debut. In only his second day in the car, he was able to manage a top-10 starting position. The 18-year old has shown to be mature beyond his years and has adapted well to the new series. The experience he has around the Infineon Raceway with his involvement in the Jim Russell Racing School has proved to be invaluable, but more importantly, his natural talent is showing with how competitive he's been out of the box. He hopes to have a consistent run on Sunday and move up through the field if the opportunity presents itself.

Major was a bit disappointed after qualifying as things didn't quite go his way. First off, there were issues with just getting the car fired up when qualifying began. He lost some time sitting in the pits while the situation was rectified. Then, during the session, he went off course in a safe spot, but because he couldn't get his car started back up, a full course caution was declared, and as a penalty, Major had to forfeit his best qualifying lap. Still, he's inside the top-10 and feels confident that he can move up through the field with the green flag drops for the race.

Just one warm-up session remains on Sunday which takes place at 8:40 a.m. The race follows at noon.

No. 7 LUCAS OIL/CJ Motorsport/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver J.K. Vernay

"It was really tight again with James (Hinchcliffe). We are always fighting for half a tenth. That was a great battle. I have to thank the team. The car was great again. I am really happy. After the disappointing weekend at Mid-Ohio, I wanted to be quick here. It's fantastic. Now, tomorrow, we have to stay focused to the race. The goal is to win the championship and we have to finish well to do that."

No. 11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Pippa Mann

"We've been looking to qualify up front on several occasions on road and street courses this year, but it just didn't go to plan. It feels really good to finally get one in the bag. I was cleared to drive yesterday at the circuit, and I'm really glad I've managed to make the most of it so far. The pain management is not a big issue, which is a great achievement so few weeks out of surgery. However, the lack of strength in my hand is proving somewhat of an issue. It's something we're aware of and trying to work around, but in all probability, it's just going to be something I have to work out how to drive around tomorrow. Overall, I'm obviously really pleased with the session, but also with the day as a whole. We've run in the top-10 in every session today, and the boys have given me a great car. We managed to stay on top of the changing track conditions, and I think this qualifying result has been a long time coming. Consistently, I tend to race even stronger than I qualify, so I think we're all looking forwards to tomorrow."

No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Philip Major

"We had some difficulties in our qualifying. We had some electrical problems that took away some of our time at the start of the session. We finally got the car started, but unfortunately, I had a spin in a low speed corner. I was still on the pavement, but because I was having electrical problems, I couldn't get the car restarted, and as a penalty, my fastest lap was taken away. I had a time good enough for around seventh. I'll just have to make that up in the race. I'm looking forward to having a good run."

No. 77 JIM RUSSELL RACING SERIES/Sam Schmidt Motorsports Driver Alex Ellis

"I'm obviously really pleased with this result.  It's only my second day in
the car.  I was expecting to be well over a second off the pace, and I'm
only nine-tenths off pole.  I'm really happy with it.  However, during my
second new tire run in qualifying, I was putting in a really great lap.  I
was about 80% done.  A car in front of me lost it going into Turn 9 and left
some dust on the track.  A local yellow came out, and I had to back off.
With that, I lost about three to four-tenths of a second.  That lap time was
still only a tenth off of my quickest time.  I figure I had a few tenths in
the bag which would have put me around seventh.  I'm really happy with the
result anyway.  I'm looking forward to the race and am hoping to have a
smooth and consistent run.  Hopefully I can be a little aggressive and pick
up a few spots.  I'm excited and can't wait."

-source: ssm

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About this article
Series Indy Lights
Drivers Sam Schmidt , Charlie Kimball , Pippa Mann , Phillip Major