Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe lock out Long Beach front row for Andretti (VIDEO)


The Honda-powered Andretti Autosport tandem of Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and James Hinchcliffe will lead the field to the green flag tomorrow in the 40th Anniversary of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Hinchcliffe jumped to the top of the Firestone Fast Six in the final minute with a time of 1:07.9403, but it was his American teammate Hunter-Reay that denied him his first career IndyCar pole by posting a 1:07.8219 with no time left on the clock.

It’s Hunter-Reay’s sixth career pole and his first since Mid-Ohio in 2013.

“It just comes down to this team giving me what I need, when I need it,” Hunter-Reay told the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network. “Wow, what a qualifying session. It was unreal. You never knew who was going to put in the [best] lap – it was anybody’s session.

“…It’s a good start for us but tomorrow’s going to be challenging. We’ve got the standing start and a long day on the Beach, but I’m just thrilled to be here. I love this race – we’ve been on the outside pole so many times here, [but we] finally got the big one.”

Sebastien Bourdais, a three-time winner in Champ Car at Long Beach, was the lone Chevrolet-powered driver to make the FF6 and was able to earn P3 on the grid with a time of 1:07.9580.

Josef Newgarden has set himself up for a possible upset bid tomorrow after qualifying fourth (1:08.0097), while British rookie Jack Hawksworth (1:08.0525) and French veteran Simon Pagenaud (1:08.0732) will make up Row 3.

Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti start in Row 4, and Helio Castroneves and Justin Wilson are in Row 5.

The biggest shock of the first round was IndyCar points leader Will Power’s failure to advance out. The Australian won the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg two weeks ago, but now must roll off from 14th position tomorrow – a tough climb on a course as tight as Long Beach.

“Man, that’s bad for us,” Power told IMS Radio. “We were just a little too conservative on the two laps that counted and, yeah, just not quite right, unfortunately. But we’re starting 14th, and we’ll see what we can do.

“It all depends on the yellows. If it’s a full green race, yes, it would be very difficult to make your way forward. But with some yellows there [and] a bit of strategy, we can potentially have a good day.”

Other notables that didn’t make it out of Round 1 were Tony Kanaan in 13th, defending Long Beach champion Takuma Sato in 15th, and open-wheel returnee Juan Pablo Montoya in 16th.

Sato ended up losing his two fastest laps in his Round 1 group session after he was found to have interfered with Hunter-Reay’s progress on the track.

Starting Lineup

1. 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport
2. 27-James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport
3. 11-Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH Racing
4. 67-Josef Newgarden, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
5. 98-Jack Hawksworth (rookie), Bryan Herta Autosport
6. 77-Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
7. 9-Scott Dixon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
8. 25-Marco Andretti, Andretti Autosport
9. 3-Helio Castroneves, Team Penske
10. 19-Justin Wilson, Dale Coyne Racing
11. 34-Carlos Munoz (rookie), Andretti Autosport
12. 16-Oriol Servia, Rahal Letterman Lanigan
13. 10-Tony Kanaan, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
14. 12-Will Power, Team Penske
15. 14-Takuma Sato, A.J. Foyt Racing
16. 2-Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske
17. 20-Mike Conway, Ed Carpenter Racing
18. 8-Ryan Briscoe, Chip Ganassi Racing
ROW 10
19. 83-Charlie Kimball, Chip Ganassi Racing
20. 7-Mikhail Aleshin (rookie), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
ROW 11
21. 18-Carlos Huertas (rookie), Dale Coyne Racing
22. 17-Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS Racing
ROW 12
23. 15-Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”