LEEDS, Ala. -- Sebastian Saavedra's return to Firestone Indy Lights began with a third-place finish in the St. Petersburg 100 last week on the temporary street circuit.
This week, he'll seek his fourth victory in the series from the front row. Saavedra, driving the No. 27 Team AFS car, posted a best lap of 1 minute, 16.4968 seconds on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course to earn the Sunoco Pole Award for the 45-lap Grand Prix of Alabama on April 1.
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Saavedra, who topped the time sheet in the lone practice session March 30 (the second was canceled because of a downpour), jumped to the top of the qualifying time sheet with just under five minutes left in the 45-minute session and remained there when a red flag flew for a one-car incident involving the No. 7 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car driven by Oliver Webb.
"If was a very tough qualifying session," said Saavedra, who competed in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2011. "Very wet in a couple of places and you don’t want it to be wet. A big thanks to the No. 27 guys. They did an amazing job. This car has been unbelievably fast all through the weekend. It was also very fast last week in St. Pete. It feels very good to have our first pole of the season and we will move forward from here."
Webb's car spun in Turn 13, slid across the wet grass and made contact with the tire barrier. Webb, who was sitting fifth at the time, was uninjured.
Tristan Vautier was the provisional pole sitter with a lap of 1:16.7270 with about 15 minutes left in the session until Saavedra's run. It's Vautier's second consecutive front-row start; the 2011 Star Mazda champion won from the pole in his Firestone Indy Lights debut at St. Pete.
"I’m happy and frustrated at the same time," he said. "I’m happy because I feel like we made a big step from practice and we improved the car a lot. The team and my engineer made the right calls for the car. I’m happy because I feel we could have had this pole, but I’m frustrated because with the red flag we didn’t get to use our last set of tires.
"We just put them on and then it was red. We just did a warmup lap. But we took a risk in waiting longer and it didn’t work out, so great job from these guys at Andretti/AFS. They made the right call in qualifying and were strong from the start of practice. So well deserved, and we’ll do our best to do it in the race."
Carlos Munoz, making his second start in the series, will share Row 2 with Esteban Guerrieri (last year's series championship runner-up). Munoz, driving the No. 26 Team Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport, had a best lap of 1:17.0882. He started seventh and finished 14th at St. Pete. Guerrieri, driving the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/SSM car, started and finished second on the St. Pete street course.