Verizon IndyCar Series drivers predicted to "expect the unexpected" on the new Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Sebastian Saavedra earning the Verizon P1 Award fits into that category, with more to come in the 82-lap race May 10.
Six different teams are represented on the first three rows for the standing start on the Speedway's frontstretch, and Saavedra is the fourth different pole sitter in as many races this season.
Saavedra, whose previous best qualifying effort on a road/street circuit was ninth in the first two events of 2013 (St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park), inherited the top spot in the closing minute of the Firestone Fast Six when the No. 28 DHL car of provisional pole sitter Ryan Hunter-Reay spun and made contact with the outside wall exiting the final corner of the rain-soaked 2.439-mile, 14-turn. According to the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook, Hunter-Reay's quickest two laps of the 10-minute session were disallowed.
Click it: Grand Prix of Indianapolis qualifying results || Anatomy of a standing start
Still, Hunter-Reay, coming off a victory in Birmingham, Ala., on April 27, will be on Row 2.
Saavedra, competing in his 42nd Verizon IndyCar Series race, posted a best lap of 1 minute, 23.8822 seconds in the No. 17 AFS KV AFS Racing car. The first-year program is a collaboration between longtime Verizon IndyCar Series and Indy Lights team owner Gary Peterson and KV Racing Technology co-owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven, who the Indianapolis 500 last May with Tony Kanaan behind the wheel.
"I love the rain," said Saavedra, who will celebrate his 24th birthday June 2. "It was crazy at first because we didn’t know what to expect from the track – if it was going to be wet, if it was going to be dry. We were comfortable yesterday, as it got hotter, we just needed to work a little bit more – especially with the rain. We made a huge leap this morning and then the whole session was just weird. It started to rain and went from wet, to dry, to super dry, to super wet. I loved it."
Saavedra, of Bogota, Colombia, has a best finish of eighth (2013 Baltimore with Dragon Racing).
Also a bit unexpected is series rookie Jack Hawksworth starting on the front row in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge car for BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian. He participated in the Firestone Fast Six at Long Beach, qualifying fifth and finishing 15th after being involved in a Lap 56 incident involving Hunter-Reay, and qualified eighth in the St. Petersburg opener.
"We started the season out quite strong," said Hawksworth, 23, of England, who placed fourth in the 2013 Indy Lights championship. "There's been glimmers of speed and potential. Not all quite there yet, but hopefully tomorrow is the day when we do it."
Simon Pagenaud, who was quickest in the morning practice session and set the lap record (1:09.6716) on the reconfigured track in Segment 1 of qualifying on dry pavement in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car, joins Hunter-Reay on Row 2. Series championship points leader Will Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, and reigning series champion Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry are on Row 3.
"I know how it feels when you get your first pole, it’s pretty cool, but you kind of feel a little bit of pressure going into the race," said Power, who has 33 Indy car poles. "Man, there’s no bad drivers in this series, and that’s why you see such a mixed up qualifying session week in and week out. They’re all good, they’re all good racers and they’re all up there ready to win races. To me, I think they’re going to do a good job, and we’ll see what happens."
Hunter-Reay has qualified in the top three (one pole) in each of the races this season, though this time out he "gave that one away."
"Since we got here it’s been dry-wet-dry-wet. It was changing conditions and it was a lot of fun, but it ended the wrong way, so congrats to Saavedra – good job and good pace," Hunter-Reay said. "It’s going to be a really great championship race and there will be a lot of passing – especially with these long straights. There will be a lot of different strategies on downforce and tires. I think there will be a lot of (teams) mixing it up like you always do with the Verizon IndyCar Series."
ABC will telecast the race live (3:30 p.m. ET). Allen Bestwick is the chief announcer, with Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever Jr. the analysts. The race will be broadcast on IMS Radio Network affiliates, XM 209 and Sirius 213, www.indycar.com and INDYCAR 14 app (both in conjunction with real-time Timing & Scoring). Paul Page is the chief announcer.
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