Alexander Rossi wins pole for Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach

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Alexander Rossi will start tomorrow’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach in P1 for the second consecutive year, as the California native looks to make it back-to-back victories from the pole on the famed street circuit.

The 2018 race winner set the fastest time in the Firestone Fast 6, with a time of 1 minute, 6.4811 seconds coming in his final lap of the session.

“I’m a little bit at loss for words, to be honest,” Rossi said following his pole run. “That was way harder than last year.  These NAPA Andretti Honda boys did such a good job. We had a tough Friday, and then the work we did overnight was awesome. To lead P3 and to go and do this against the most competitive field we’ve ever had is a huge testament to the team. This one’s big. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest”.

“I think we’ve had a good car, but we haven’t had the best car yet this year, so we knew coming here we had to execute. Josef [Newgarden] has a pretty big lead on us in the championship and he’s done an awesome job, so we needed to do a good job, so this is step one. We know how to win from pole here, so hopefully we can do so tomorrow”.

Watch the race on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN or at NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app

Scott Dixon will start the race on the front row alongside Rossi, qualifying second with a time of 1 minute, 6.7479 seconds.

Team Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden will share the second row, qualifying third and fourth, respectively, with teammate Simon Pagenaud right behind them in the fifth position.

The exciting qualifying session had several on-track incidents as well. Group 1 qualifying ended under the red flag after Tony Kanaan ran into the tire barrier in turn 6. Kanaan will start tomorrow’s race from 21st.

James Hinchcliffe was unable to advance to the second round of qualifying as the red flag came out while he was on his fast lap. Hinchcliffe will start tomorrow’s race in 15th.

“It’s such a kick in the nuts,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN. “That has such a huge affect on the championship”.

In round two of qualifying, Felix Rosenqvist was set to move into the Firestone Fast 6, but the rookie driver locked up the brakes and went straight into the tire barriers in turn 9 with seconds remaining.

The incident triggered a red flag, costing Rosenqvist his two fastest laps and sending him to a 12th-place starting position.

“That was a shame,” Rosenqvist told NBCSN. “I think we had a really good speed on the [Firestone] reds”.

Coverage of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach begins at 4 p.m. E.T. Sunday on NBCSN.

Full qualifying results

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April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994