LONG BEACH, Calif. — Ryan Hunter-Reay, determined to rebound from a disappointing season, is off to a strong start in what he hopes will be another run toward the IndyCar championship.
Hunter-Reay won the pole Saturday for the 40th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, knocking teammate James Hinchcliffe from the top spot while ensuring an all-Andretti Autosport front row.
Hunter-Reay won three poles last year, but as his performance tapered off in the second half of the season, he was unable to defend his 2012 championship. He opened this year with a second-place finish at St. Petersburg, and now will try for his first win of the season Sunday at Long Beach.
"It just comes down to this team giving me what I need when I need it," the American said after turning a lap in 1 minute, 7.8219 seconds on the temporary course through the streets of downtown.
Hinchcliffe wound up second after his lap at 1 minute, 7.9403 seconds.
"If you are going to lose pole, it might as well be to a teammate," Hinchcliffe said.
Sebastien Bourdais was third, followed by Josef Newgarden, rookie Jack Hawksworth and Simon Pagenaud.
Honda drivers made up five of the Fast Six spots, with Bourdais the only Chevrolet representative.
"What a qualifying session — you never knew who was going to put in the best lap," Hunter-Reay said. "It was anybody's session."
Well, not anybody.
The session was surprising for who didn't advance into the later rounds.
Defending race winner Takuma Sato didn't make it out of the first group, and was penalized for interfering with Hunter-Reay during his lap. The punishment stripped Sato of his two fastest laps in the session.
"Tough qualifying session," Sato said.
Also failing to advance was Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, making his second start for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing.
In the next group, Will Power failed to move on for just the second time in his career. He last failed to advance out of the first round at Brazil last season.
"Obviously, the team is starting a lot further back then we had hoped," Power said. "We just have to try to make that work from where we are and do the best we can tomorrow."
Defending series champion Scott Dixon did advance into the second round, as did runner-up Helio Castroneves. But neither made it into the Fast Six round, shutting both Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing out of the final group.
Juan Pablo Montoya continued to struggle in his return to IndyCar after seven seasons in NASCAR. As he was pushing for more speed on his last qualifying attempt, he lost control of his car and hit the wall. He'll start 16th on Sunday.
"We keep gaining on it and I definitely think we had a car that was capable of the Fast Six. We just brushed the wall in turn four," he said. "I was trying hard to get that extra two tenths and it didn't work out."
Also struggling on Saturday was Graham Rahal, who has not found much speed and qualified last in the 23-car field. Oriol Servia, making his first start of the season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, also struggled in morning practice but picked up some speed in qualifying and advanced into the second round.
Servia was eliminated in that round and will start 12th.
"We tried to make more changes to get the balance in the car better and then tried some bigger ones for qualifying," Rahal said. "We are just struggling with overall grip. Oriol had a big grip gain on alternate tires and I didn't feel it. We have a lot of work to do."