The Good Old Boys Club could have described the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone Fast Six qualifiers conference Saturday afternoon. There was jocularity, teasing, quipping and inside jokes among the six drivers – Pole Sitter RYAN BRISCOE/
Team Penske Chevrolet; First Starter DARIO FRANCHITTI/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; JAMES HINCHCLIFFE and RYAN HUNTER-REAY/Andretti Autosports Chevrolet; WILL POWER/Team Penske Chevrolet; and EJ VISO/KV Racing Technology Chevrolet.
Briscoe earned the bonus point and $10,000 for his IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying track record lap of 1:08.6089.
Briscoe stressed that he had a fast car for the race and that will be important as it’s hard to pass at Long Beach.
Race Strategy? – “Is it going to be a two or three stop race? That could affect how aggressive people will run, or how much people will want to save fuel at times. I think it will depend a lot on where the cautions fall.There are a lot of unknowns.You just need to be consistent, and have good pit stops . We may see passing in different places were we’ve never seen before.” To which Power said “There will be a lot of crashing if that’s the case.”
Briscoe has four in-car cameras on his car. He said “It gives a view of different dynamics.” Two of the cameras are over steering wheel, and on right rear wheel.Pow
er qualified second “We’ll just have to make the best of it and see where we end up. It’s days like tomorrow that will be really important for the championship and come out of the weekend with good points and not end up not finishing. So, just focus hard on strategy and get the most out of the race.”
RH qualified third. He said, despite the ten lap penalty he had already been assessed, he “definitely wanted the pole. Three years in a row he qualified second to Power.”
“There are some really good blockers out there and we’re gonna see a lot of blocking tomorrow. We’ll have to get really creative.”
Hunter-Reay said the 1.986 mile-11 turn street circuit “is inherently bumpy.”
Viso was fifth fastest, and could hardly get a word in edgewise with all the jokesters. “We had the potential to put the car on the pole. However, we would not have gotten the pole because of the penalty. Still. I a looking forward to the race and having a good result because we have a lot of trust and belief in ourselves.”
IndyCar’s Clown Prince, Hinch, was sixth fastest. He was full of quips. His qualifying went far better than his morning practice session where he was the first car into the tire barriers. For qualifying, he said “Sort of went for it on my last lap, and had a pretty phenomenal smoke show on Turn One with both fronts flapped up, and still managed to finish the lap and just sneak into the Fast Six.”
Despite Saturday’s bright and sunny weather, the track was green from all the Friday rain. The Fast Six drivers seemed to agree that the Saturday morning practice wasn’t much help, as no one could get more than two laps at a time. (The longest Green Flag run was mid-session, for ten minutes.) There were five red flags with lots of on-track drama. No drivers were hurt. All the body contacts were single car meeting tire barrier. Other drivers suffered mechanical woes on track necessitating a tow.
Rookie JOSEF NEWGARDEN/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/Honda met the press separately after qualifying, but the verbal and articulate newcomer could have held his own with the best of them. He was pipped by Hinchcliffe on the last lap in his qualifying session, barely missing out on making the Fast Six by 0.0301.
“I feel so strong about the car we had, I was a bit disappointed we didn’t make the Fast Six. I’ll try to get by Dario early. Maybe he won’t expect it. I’ll race him clean. Dario’s a good driver, so that makes a difference.
“Like Power, I just have to focus.”
Starting on his first IndyCar front row Sunday “is a great opportunity for us. I still need to learn my way around. I know how to do it – did it a lot of it in Lights. Part of the learning curve has been pit stops, which we didn’t have in Lights.”
Newgarden said “Sunday would be a good day to be a Honda. Tomorrow we’re gonna try and stick it to the Chevy’s.”
Starting Sunday third and fourth will be JUSTIN WILSON/Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Rookie SIMON PAGENAUD/Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports Honda. Wilson said “Sometimes things don’t go your way and other times things are sometimes handed to you.”
Viso was the fastest of the three KVRT drivers. Teammate TONY KANAAN had a crash in morning practice, which “didn’t help with trying to get track time. It was a very competitive qualifying session and I missed the Fast Six by a tenth of a second.” TK was tenth fastest.
The third KVRT driver, RUBENS BARRICHELLO, said “I have only managed to run around 41 laps this weekend and then trying to qualify on a different tire. We can’t be happy with where I’m starting, so hopefully tomorrow will be a good race.” He was nineteenth fastest.
Although there was a lot of talking and joking about who would start where, officially the grid won’t be announced until after the morning warm-up, when the infamous penalties will be assessed – losing ten grid positions for an unauthorized engine change. At the moment it’s only 14 drivers, but tomorrow is another day.
Sunday’s race airs live on NBC Sports Network 12:15pm local time/3:30pm ET.