Hunter-Reay grabs crucial Mid-Ohio pole

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Ryan Hunter-Reay missed the track record by a few thousandths of a second, but took a pivotal pole position for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).

The driver of the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport lapped the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 1:05.3519 to win the Verizon P1 Award, just off the jointly shared (Gil de Ferran, Dario Franchitti) track record of 1:05.347. He beat three Ganassi, another Andretti and another Penske car in the Firestone Fast 6.

Hunter-Reay won the only prior permanent road course race of 2013 at Barber Motorsports Park in April. A rough three-race stretch now sees him 69 points behind series leader Helio Castroneves entering the weekend. But Hunter-Reay’s third pole of the season could not have come at a better time, and it came after a tire gamble.

“Anytime you qualify around this place in IndyCar is one of the best times you’ll have in a car,” said Hunter-Reay. “Michael made the call to (save reds). I was skeptical at first, but I kind of just wanted to plug my ears and let them make the decision. I’d go out and drive it as best I could.”

Power qualified second as he continues his search for his first win of 2013. Marco Andretti, in his first Firestone Fast 6 appearance of 2013, has his best start of the year just behind, with Scott Dixon fourth.

Dixon is surging as he seeks his fourth consecutive win of the season, his third in a row at Mid-Ohio and fifth in the last seven years at the track. He outqualified Ganassi teammates Charlie Kimball and Dario Franchitti on the day.

Kimball posted a nice rebound after a morning crash sent him to a backup car. It marks the first time all three Ganassi cars have been in the Fast 6 this season.

Going back to the start of qualifying, those who advanced from Group 1 in Q1 included all three Ganassi cars, Simona de Silvestro, Justin Wilson and E.J. Viso. Those from Group 2 were Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Power, Tristan Vautier, Andretti and James Jakes.

Tough luck loser from Group 2 in Q1 was Barracuda Racing’s Luca Filippi. The Italian caused a red flag and lost his two fastest laps; his best of 1:05.9847 would have put him fourth in the session, but as it is, he’ll start shotgun on the 24-car field for his IndyCar debut.

Wilson, Pagenaud, de Silvestro, Jakes, Vautier and Viso were knocked out in Q2 and take up spots P7-12 on the grid.

Power and Hunter-Reay made their fifth Firestone Fast 6 of 2013, Franchitti his fourth, Dixon his third, Kimball his second and Andretti his first.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.