Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Long Beach Saturday

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – A few extra news and notes beyond qualifying and the no Ganassi/Penske Firestone Fast Six from Saturday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Round 2 of the Verizon IndyCar Series (here’s Friday’s):

  • Career-best qualifying for Newgarden: Here’s a weird one: Josef Newgarden has his best career qualifying effort, but not his best career start, with fourth in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda on Saturday. He started second in 2012 after the rash of engine changes for Chevrolet-powered teams; that year, he qualified seventh on merit. As it was, the Tennessee native said there wasn’t a huge difference between Firestone’s primary blacks and alternate red tires. “Oh, man, it was so close. It was just so close between everyone. You know what was weird was that there wasn’t a big jump from Blacks to Reds today. We saw a similar thing in St. Pete. Just wasn’t a big jump. We ran a 78.1 this morning, and feeling really good about it. I think we’ve had an incredibly fast car from the git go here. We just didn’t go quicker in qualifying, and no one really did,” he said.
  • More Hawk awesomeness: Jack Hawksworth qualified fifth for his second start in the No. 98 Charter/Castrol Edge Honda for Bryan Herta Autosport. And the Bradford, UK native still said he left more on the table. “(We) had a couple of really clean, clean laps in session 1 and session 2. Then session 3 the car was really good again, which is good. I probably didn’t get quite as much out of it as I did coming off of turn 1 on the final lap, but I mean, the car was really good,” said the continuously impressive rookie.
  • Servia P12, Rahal P23: The quotes from the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing pair tell the story: Servia first: “Not that you should be happy starting 12th but considering where we were before qualifying and the gains I think we can still make on the car, I’m happy. With as competitive as the field is, going from one round to the second round is a very big achievement.” Then Rahal: “It was a struggle today. We tried to make more changes to get the balance in the car better and then tried some bigger ones for qualifying. We are just struggling with overall grip. Oriol had a big grip gain on alternate tires and I didn’t feel it.”
  • An all-star Row 8: The most recent Long Beach winner, Takuma Sato, starts next to the oldest active Long Beach winner (1999) Juan Pablo Montoya on the eighth row of the grid. Watch this space for the standing start on Sunday as two of the most exciting drivers work through the field.
  • Another big crowd: Like Friday, I’ll attest the on-the-ground perspective is that this place feels jam packed. This is an impressive turnout given the event’s future being part of the news in recent weeks. Long Beach is the preeminent IndyCar street course race weekend, and it is fully living up to its stature thus far.

You can see Sunday’s race at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

Here’s the full qualifying results.

Al Unser Jr. to race Pikes Peak Hill Climb for first time in 29 years

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Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. is coming out of retirement to race again.

Unser Jr., who turns 56 on April 19, will compete in the 96th Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 24. It will be the first time Unser has raced at Pikes Peak in 29 years, since the 1989 event.

Unser won the Hill Climb and was named “King of the Mountain” in the 1983 event.

Unser said in 2007 that he was retiring from racing and had no plans to race in the future. However, he has taken part since then in some selected vintage racing events.

Speaking of vintage cars, Unser is slated to drive a 1936 Chevrolet Sedan in this year’s Hill Climb, according to race organizers.

He’ll compete with a number of luminaries including eight-time Hill Climb winner Paul Dallenbach; Layne Schranz, who will be competing in his 25th “Race to the Clouds”; 23-time champion Clint Vahsholtz; 25-time Hill Climb competitor David Schmidt II and three-time Climb winner Spencer Steele.

Unser recently returned to IndyCar racing as a consultant with Harding Racing, which is beginning its first full season in the series with Gabby Chaves behind the wheel.