Ryan Hunter-Reay on track Long Beach

LONG BEACH, California – Ryan Hunter-Reay has been one of the fastest drivers of the weekend at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, but all that speed went for naught in the second round of NTT IndyCar Series qualifying on Saturday.

Hunter-Reay joined a growing group of drivers whose fortunes have been negatively impacted by an untimely red flag during qualifying this season. In Hunter-Reay’s case, he was the first driver missing out on the Firestone Fast Six that Andretti Autosport teammate and defending race winner Alexander Rossi conquered to win the NTT P1 Award pole position.

Instead, Hunter-Reay will start Sunday’s race from the seventh position in the No. 28 DHL Honda. That result was disappointing to the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, who’d ranked

first, second and fourth in the weekend practice sessions leading into knockout qualifying.

Hunter-Reay had one lap on scuffed Firestone alternate red tires in the bank in the second round of qualifying when Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist crashed into a tire barrier and brought the session to an end.

“It just didn’t seem like we had the performance on them while others were on new (alternate tires),” Hunter-Reay said.

Starting the 85-lap race from the inside of Row 4, Hunter-Reay is left in somewhat of a no-man’s land at the 11-turn, 1.968-mile layout. He may be too close to the leaders to go with an alternate strategy, meaning he’ll have to pass cars on track or through quicker pit stops.

“Obviously, a little bit of a fumble (in qualifying) considering the amount of speed we have,” Hunter-Reay said. “Seventh, hopefully we can make it work from there. It’s a bummer. We had a lot of pace in the car and now we’re left scratching our heads watching the Fast Six.”

Hunter-Reay is the second-highest Andretti Autosport car on the starting grid. Marco Andretti qualified 11th and Zach Veach was 22nd out of 23 drivers.

If Hunter-Reay is able to win the race for the second time, following a 2010 triumph that altered the trajectory of his NTT IndyCar Series career, he will become only the second driver to win from the seventh position in 36 Indy car races at Long Beach dating to 1984. The only winner from the seventh spot to date was Hunter-Reay’s team owner, Michael Andretti, who beat Al Unser Jr., by 0.38 of a second in 1986 to collect his first career victory.

“We’ll have some cars to pass tomorrow to get to the front, but we’ve had good pace this weekend and still have our sights set on a podium finish for the DHL team,” Hunter-Reay said.

Lying ahead of Hunter-Reay on the starting grid are six fellow craft veterans, including four – Rossi, Scott Dixon, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud – who have won previously at Long Beach. Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal must be overtaken as well.

But if Hunter-Reay needs inspiration, he only needs to look back to last year’s race. Sebastien Bourdais started ninth and drove to second place before he was undone by a full-course caution seconds before he entered the pit.

“It’s definitely odd, but if we have good race car (on Sunday),” Hunter-Reay said hopefully, “there’s no reason we can’t get it done from seventh.”

Live coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

The INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA provides the perfect second-screen complement to the race telecast. Select in-car cameras are available as well as all team radio communications, live timing and scoring and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network commentary. Download the app for smartphones at indycar.com/mobile-app.