BIRMINGHAM,AL- In a most surprising qualifying session, defending IZOD IndyCar Series Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay beat out Verizon Team Penske driver Will Power for the Verizon P1 Award at the 2.38 mile Grand Prix course at Barber Motorsports Park. Will Power completes the front row with a lap of 1:07.3304. All of today’s qualifiers ran under the previous track record of 1:09.82.
Group 1 was the “Death Group” this time. In fact, by the end of Round 1, every car with the exception of Ana Beatriz would have been fast enough to pass Group 2. The exciting bit of drama was seeing if A.J. Allmendinger could hold on and pass through to Round 2. Dinger did manage to hang on, joining Dixon(Who set a new track record of 1:06.7750 during the session,) Hunter-Reay, Sato, Saavedra and Kimball in Round 2.
Group 2 didn’t have the excitement of Group 1, but the results were interesting nonetheless. Scary fast rookie Tristan Vautier set the pace with a lap of 1:07.1201 to lead the advance to Round 2. Also moving through to Round 2 were Justin Wilson, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, James Jakes and Marco Andretti. The excitement in Group 2 was due to a tweet issued by Sarah Fisher regarding a blocking incident. It was soon after revealed that the incident was between Will Power and James Hinchcliffe. No action was taken by Race Control, so the session continued as usual.
Round 2 had it’s own drama. It was announced that Race Control was investigating an incident involving Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson. Sato, whose time was fast enough to move him on to the Firestone Fast Six, had his fast lap time invalidated for impeding Justin Wilson’s progress late in the session. This moved Tristan Vautier into the Firestone Fast Six, making him 2 for 2 in career qualifying on Firestone Fast Six appearances. Also moving into the Firestone Fast Six were Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball, Will Power and Helio Castroneves.
As all of us in the media center prepared for the impending Will Power show, some qualifying anomalies became apparant. First, James Jakes out-qualified his teammate, Graham Rahal. Sebastian Saavedra out-qualified his teammate, Sebastien Bourdais. Tristian Vautier out-qualified his teammate, Simon Pagenaud. Charlie Kimball out-qualified his “teammate,” Dario Franchitti. Are we living in “Bizzaro Qual-World?”
As Round 3 begins, Vautier’s team has made a dramatic error. Although they were advised of the investigation involving the 14 and 19, they prepped the car for transport back to the hauler. As Sato sat in his car on Pit Lane, it was announced his time was disqualified, and Vautier would move on. The Schmidt-Peterson team scrambled to prepare the car for Round Three, taking several minutes into the session to complete preparations.
Firestone Fast Six qualifying begins, and it looks like business as usual. Will Power heads to the top of the charts. Power is joined by Castroneves and Dixon, and the clock rolls down. Then, out of nowhere, Ryan Hunter-Reay shoots to the top of the charts. Tristan Vautier moves up to third. As the clock hits zero, Ryan Hunter-Reay wins the Verizon P1 Award at a track that generally hasn’t been kind to him. Power finishes the session in P2, while Tristan Vautier continues an impressive run, finishing P3.
Starting grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Pagenaud de Silvestro