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.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).