A simple mistake during Firestone Indy Lights qualifications was counter-productive. In fact, anything slightly out of the groove on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit was costly for drivers seeking the pole position for the Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The top seven cars were separated by 0.9681 of a second after the 60-minute qualifying round for the 45-lap race April 18, and the gap between pole sitter James Hinchcliffe and 10th-place starter Junior Strous was 1.2969 seconds.
Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 2 TMR-Xtreme Coil Drilling car, earned his second pole start of the three-race season with a quick lap of 1 minute, 14.6261 seconds on the 18th of his 20 laps.
“We had to use that second set of tires a bit sooner than the other guys,” said Hinchcliffe, who started and finished fifth April 11 at Barber Motorsports Park. “We knew the track was going to be a bit better at the end, but our hands were tied. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life, just standing there.
“J.K. (Vernay) did put in a quicker lap, but it was under yellow. Congrats to him, but a bit of a tough break for him. But we've had some luck against us, so it's nice for us to have something go our way a bit. Really happy to be on pole.”
Vernay is positioned to make it three consecutive victories as he'll start on the outside of the front row in the No. 7 Lucas Oil/CJ/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car. He produced a quick lap of 1:14.7829.
“It's OK,” he said. “Now I'm qualifying, I know what I can do with the car. It's a good thing for the start, to be in the first row.
“I'm really disappointed (about the lap under caution) because we were really fast. We had like five or six yellow flags. It was crazy, but a driver into the wall. And each time we came on track with new tires, and there was a yellow. I did only two laps with each set of tires, and it's not enough to do a good lap time.”
Charlie Kimball (1:14.9094) in the No. 26 Levemir FlexPen car for AFS Racing Andretti Autosport will share Row 2 with Sebastian Saavedra (1:14.9761), driving the No. 29 William Rast/Bryan Herta Autosport entry. Martin Plowman (1:15.4126) in the No. 27 Automatic Fire Sprinklers/KEP Printing car for AFS Racing Andretti Autosport and Philip Major (1:15.4126), driving the No. 49 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car will be on Row 3.
“It was pretty busy to start with,” said Kimball, who was runner-up to Vernay at Barber Motorsports Park. “A lot of people were trying to be aggressive early. We kind of played our game with tire strategy. We were waiting for the end to really bang the time in. We were quick on the first set and then quick again on the second set. I think we did a quick lap there that was P1 for a minute. Hinch put a second set on a little earlier, gambled that it would be clean and then there would be yellows at the end, and it paid off.
“When I was going for the big one on the end, right on the last lap, I caught a yellow, and it kind of messed up the flow. This morning on race-distance tires we were P4 against guys on fresh tires. Come race day, we're in good shape.”
Tonis Kasemets, making his Firestone Indy Lights debut, will start seventh in the No. 35 Palm Beach Indy Racing car, and Gustavo Yacaman will start eighth in the No. 10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing car. Stefan Wilson, driving the No. 28 Bryan Herta Autosport car, will share Row 5 with Strous.