Andretti Continues to Push Toward Front of Field

LONG BEACH, California — I know what I said at the end of my morning piece – that I’d bet on Penske for the pole position this weekend. But man oh man, I have to tell you that Andretti Autosport is making me rethink my strategy. Funny enough, Marco Andretti was quickest of his teammates and his strategist is one of the best in the game – Bryan Herta.

Herta isn’t the only change for Andretti this season though, his attitude, as discussed on media day, is having a significant impact on his comfort behind the well. That purposeful change in mindset is translating to a very contagious happiness and overall confidence for the driver of the No. 27 Honda. He is clearly focused on finding his third career win and explained why he would very much like to have it here in Long Beach,

“For our family, it’s definitely a special (track). My dad actually won his first and his last race here, which is pretty cool. I want to win my third race here… if it’s this season! There’s just so much history. It’s a magical place.”

Andretti’s teammates Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay joined him in the Top 5 with the 4th and 5th quickest laps in the afternoon, respectively. Those times were also good enough for the same spots overall. Marco has a best finish of 6th at the track in 2009 while Sato achieved victory in 2013 and Hunter-Reay has both a pole (2014) and a win (2010).

Unlike the morning round, Team Penske drivers were not the only ones representing Chevy in the Top 10 this afternoon. JR Hildebrand from Ed Carpenter Racing placed P9 and was within less than .67 of a second from the leader – Team Chevy driver Will Power, who is also a 3-time Long Beach polesitter and 2-time race winner.

Hildebrand might be one of the underdogs to watch out for tomorrow. I could see him making it into the second round of qualifying, and possibly the Firestone Fast 6 if the team is able to put together a series of perfect laps. I’m not sure he has the experience to overpower the veterans on track for the Verizon P1 Award quite yet though. .ECR’s last pole win was in 2015 with Josef Newgarden at the Milwaukee Mile.

Qualifying position is of great importance in Long Beach, given it’s lack of passing opportunities. If we go caution-free like we did last year, then it’s likely we can predict the podium relatively easily after tomorrow’s qualifying. The 2016 contest was the first caution-free Long Beach event since 1989 though, so the odds are against it happening again so soon.

Then again, the word of the year for the Verizon IndyCar Series is ‘unpredictable’, so here’s to going against the odds and keeping everyone guessing. Racing is so much more exciting that way, don’t you think?

Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:

Friday, April 7th:
Practice #1: 10:00 – 10:45 a.m. PT / 1:00 – 1:45 p.m. ET
Practice #2: 2:00 – 2:45 p.m. PT / 5:00 – 5:45 p.m. ET

Saturday, April 8th:
Practice #3: 10.45 – 11:30 a.m. PT / 1:45 – 2:30 p.m. ET
Qualifying: 3:30 – 4:45 p.m. PT / 6:30 – 7:45 p.m. ET

Sunday, April 9th:
Warm Up: 9:00 – 9:30 a.m. PT / 12:00 noon – 12:30 p.m. ET
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach: 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. PT / 4:00 – 7:00 p.m. ET

Practice #2, Qualifying and the Race will all broadcast on NBCSN.
The remaining track sessions will be livestreamed.
All links to livestream and IndyCar radio coverage is available here.

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Feature photo: Chris Jones/IndyCar