LONG BEACH, California – Now that he’s repeated as the NTT P1 Award winner at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, Alexander Rossi is looking to echo the 2018 race results.
The driver of the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda captured the pole position for the NTT IndyCar Series race on the iconic Southern California street circuit for the second straight year in qualifying Saturday. Rossi capitalized on the first starting position in 2018 to win the race in dominant fashion.
ACURA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH: Qualifying results
Rossi turned in the best lap in the Firestone Fast Six, the last of three rounds of knockout qualifying. He navigated the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit in 1 minute, 6.4811 seconds (106.569 mph) – the fastest lap of the race weekend thus far.
“It was about doing it on that one lap,” Rossi said. “I was happy we decided to run two sets of reds (Firestone alternate tires in the Firestone Fast Six). We hadn't done that in the past, but it made the difference today.”
The pole was the fifth of Rossi’s four-year NTT IndyCar Series career, and he will lead the 23-car field to the green flag in Sunday’s 85-lap race (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). Three of the Andretti Autosport driver’s previous pole positions have resulted in race victories (Watkins Glen in 2017 and both Long Beach and Mid-Ohio last year).
“It would be great to win a home race,” the Nevada City, California, native said. “This pole was exponentially harder to win than last year’s … so this one was more special."
“We have a good opportunity (in the race), and it's important that we take advantage of it,” added Rossi, who sits fourth in the season standings, trailing leader Josef Newgarden by 40 points.
Scott Dixon, the 2018 NTT IndyCar Series champion who sits second in the season standings, qualified second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, at 1:06.7479 (106.143 mph). It equaled the best Long Beach qualifying effort for Dixon, who hasn’t won the pole at the track in 13 attempts.
“(We) kind of misjudged and (had) a bit of miscommunication, kind of aborted the second lap,” Dixon said. “We started catching Rossi on his lap and thought that was going to ruin us a little bit, and then I thought that (we were) done, but apparently we had another lap. All in all, we left a little bit on the table maybe. Whether we could have got to that pole time, I'm not too sure.
“I think we’re in a strong position (for the race),” Dixon added, “and I think we can keep it in the front.”
A week after Team Penske was shut out of the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in five years, all three drivers reached the climactic round Saturday, with Will Power and Newgarden sewing up Row 2. Power qualified third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:06.8748, 105.941 mph), with Newgarden fourth in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet (1:06.9096, 105.886 mph).
The third Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, reached the Firestone Fast Six for the first time this season, qualifying fifth in the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet (1:07.1877, 105.448 mph).
“It was great for all three of us to get in (the Firestone Fast Six), considering how tight it's been in practice,” said Power, a two-time Long Beach race winner and three-time pole sitter. “That was my aim just to get in the top six because I felt like I was struggling all week. But, yeah, the teams worked well.
“It was a mega lap Alex did (to win the pole). I couldn't see myself doing that, but very good to be in P3.”
Graham Rahal, who ran a lap of 1:07.3052 (105.264 mph) in the No. 15 TOTAL Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, qualified sixth.
Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist appeared primed to reach the Firestone Fast Six until he ran into the tires in Turn 9 late in the second round, forfeiting by rule his best two laps of the session. Rosenqvist will start 12th in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda and is among four rookies in the top 13, with Patricio O’Ward ninth, Colton Herta 10th and Santino Ferrucci 13th.
“It was a driver mistake, definitely,” Rosenqvist said. “I had a good lap, then went for a second one that looked a bit slower, but probably tried too hard there in the last sector. It’s always within thousandths and hundredths of a second, and you don’t really want to relax even if you’ve had a good lap time.
“It’s always such small margin, so just a slight mistake looking up over the bump will cost you. I maybe (braked) three to four feet later than the lap before and that was enough to settle down the front and I got out in the dirt a little bit.”
A final 30-minute warmup practice starts at noon ET Sunday and streams live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Sunday’s race, the fourth of 17 on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, will be the 36th consecutive for Indy cars on the streets of Long Beach.