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May 9, 2014

Unlikely duo on Indy GP pole

Saavedra, Hawkworth up front for inaugural race

INDIANAPOLIS — Verizon IndyCar drivers in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis showcased rooster tails Friday as the rains came down for the Firestone Fast Six qualifying. Red flag conditions briefly halted the final session as officials stopped action for safety reasons.

An unlikely duo will pace the field in the historic race. Sebastian Saavedra claimed the pole with rookie Jack Hawkworth earning second. Saavedra, driving for KV Racing Technology won the honor with a time of 1:23.88. It is the 23-year-old’s first Verizon IndyCar pole. Hawkworth’s best time was 1:24.078.

“I’m very proud. It’s a great way to start the month of May,” Saavedra said. “We’ve been pushing ourselves, and it’s a great opportunity.”

Saavedra is aware that series veterans will be starting behind him, but he is not worried.

“I’m 23 and I feel old. I’ve been here for three years. It’s a matter of showing yourself, but it’s not a time to try something different. I feel very comfortable right now,” Saavedra said.

Asked to describe himself as a driver, Saavedra said, “Everyone knows me for my hair. When I put my helmet on, here we are.”

Just after turning in a hot lap of 1:23.8 Ryan Hunter-Reay slid out of Turn 14, backing into the wall down the main straightaway, ending his pole run and bringing out the red flag for the session. Because he brought out the red flag, Hunter-Reay lost his two fastest laps, sending him from P1 to P3. “Every time I went through there, I almost lost it. There is a fine line between getting the lap in the wet and stepping over it.” Damage was confined to the right rear and the car will be ready for the race.

Starting fourth is Simon Pagenaud with a time of 1:25.28, while Will Power will start fifth, and Scott Dixon will start sixth. Dixon and Power both were using a strategy to change tires for the final laps in the session, but the red flag ended their hopes of claiming the pole

Hawsworth made his first appearance of the season in the Fast Six. Driving for Bryan Herta Autosports, Hawksworth finished fourth in the Indy Lights series last season, scoring victories in Toronto and Baltimore. Despite being a one-car team, Hawksworth is confident.

“I’m working well with my team, and they are giving me what I want,” Hawksworth said.

He also finds that having a former driver as a team owner helps as well. “Bryan’s experienced. He’s got the tee shirt and won races. He is always giving me advice.”

During the first session of Segment One qualifying, Pagenaud paced the field of 12 with his time of 1:09.67 which established the track record which was ran under mostly dry conditions.

“The car was really fast in dry conditions,” Pagenaud said.

Power was second with a time of 1:09.75, followed by James Hinchcliffe at 1:09.95 and Helio Castroneves with a 1:10.11. Saavedra and Hunter-Reay rounded out the top six of the first session.

Times were so close that Andretti said he was losing sleep over a couple of 100ths of a second.

“I’m not very happy. When the track was at its best, we had already plateaued,” said Andretti, who will start 13th.

In the second session of Segment One qualifying, Montoya topped the session with a 1:09.90, followed by Sebastien Bourdais with a 1:09.97. Montoya was one of three Ganassi cars to make the top six in that session. Scott Dixon recorded his best lap of 1:10.027, followed by Kanaan at 1:10.028.

Rahal Letterman teammates Graham Rahal and Oriol Servia both led the second session at one point, but failed to make the top six. However, Mikhail Aleshin was assessed a qualifying penalty for interference with Bourdais and lost his two best laps which put Rahal into the Top 12 for Segment Two qualifying. He failed to make the top six and will start 12th.

A quick downpour at the end of the second session called for teams to put on rain tires for Segment Two qualifying. Segment two qualifying times were significantly slower due to the rain. Rookie Hawksworth last second lap time put him on top of the leaderboard with a 1:23.88 followed by Power, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Saavedra and Pagenaud.

Bourdais missed the top six by just three-tenths of a second.

“We start seventh, not a bad place to be. I think it’s going to be a pretty exciting race,” Bourdais said.

Juan Pablo Montoya, Kanaan and Castroneves will start eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.

The Grand Prix begins at 3:30 p.m. but racing begins at 11 a.m. with the USF2000, followed by the Pro Mazda at noon. The Indy Lights race begins at 1:30 p.m.

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