ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – Heading into Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series knockout qualifying round on the streets of St. Pete, everyone thought that the pole was Andretti Autosport’s to lose. Ryan Hunter-Reay was quickest in two of the three practice sessions and second in the other. Alexander Rossi was fifth and sixth respectively on Friday. Marco Andretti turned the third quickest time on Friday too.
Instead, when it was all said and done, none of the four drivers are in the top two rows. Ryan Hunter-Reay will start fifth while Alexander Rossi will share Row 3 with him in rolling off sixth. Zach Veach starts 14th while Marco Andretti will start 23rd.
But, all four had their own issues.
Hunter-Reay, turned the quickest lap of the entire three rounds, but did so in the first round, not the third and final one that counts. He said that his No. 28 Honda struggled on the Firestone Reds, which is why his performance dipped. The Florida native won the last race of last season and has the car to win the first of this season. He also came home runner-up in the penultimate race of last year to go along with five straight top seven finishes at St. Pete.
“We had the fastest lap of qualifying and unfortunately it was in the wrong session,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was in Q1, a 1:00:15, super fast. That was on new (Firestone alternate) reds. In the (Firestone) Fast Six, we had used reds. I think we just beat up our reds too much in the prior sessions – there was no grip in the car in the Fast Six. We are struggling with some balance stuff right now, but hopefully we can sort that out for tomorrow, but it’s going to be tough. It seems like it is either going to be loose or understeer, we can’t find the middle. But we’re starting from fifth – and we can do something from there.”
Rossi, said his car battled a lot of understeer which was why he was only 18th in practice on Saturday morning. He had nothing for qualifying and was happy just to make the Fast Six. He came home third in last year’s race.
“We have been struggling for two days now with some issues on the front of the car.,” said Rossi after a career best starting spot in St. Pete. “I think (the qualifying result) was really the best we could hope for. It is unfortunate that we were aiming for sixth. At the end of the day, it was good to be able to advance to the Firestone Fast Six and at least give us a good starting spot for tomorrow, and we all know in this race how many things can happen. We will make sure we resolve our issues overnight and have a good car for tomorrow. I think we know what the issue is, but we don’t know quite how to fix it yet. We have a lot of very smart people here at Andretti Autosport, so the 27 NAPA guys will work and figure it out.”
Veach, has struggled with the setup on his No. 26 Honda all weekend but went his fastest when the time was right. He narrowly missed out on the second round. Like Rossi, they have some work to do overnight as well.
“The data didn’t come out just right as far as speed for us,” said the second year driver. “We think that we have a lot better car than we are showing right now, but we have an issue holding us back. We just have to figure out what that is overnight. It is a long race. This is the longest (in both laps at 110 laps and distance at 198 miles) temporary street course we have of the entire year. A lot of laps and a lot of things can happen tomorrow and at the end of the day, I am just happy to be here.”
Andretti’s crew left his fuel line open which is why his car stalled. Because of that, they couldn’t repair and try to move onto the second round.
“It was unfortunate today, the U.S. Concrete car is fast, we just didn’t get a chance,” said the third generation driver. “It ruined the show for the fans, too. There should have never been a red (flag). I was sitting on pit lane, I wasn’t blocking anyone but that’s the way the cards fell today. I will be driving and seeing red tomorrow. That’s the plan. So far we have had the pace and possibly had the pace to do a lap.”
The cars are fast, can they get them full handled right on Sunday?