LONG BEACH, Calif. – Under warm sunny skies, qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach saw veteran Tony Kanaan make the cut into Round 2 as rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist was pipped by veteran Sebastien Bourdais in the final seconds of the first round.
Kanaan posted a time of 1 minute, 7.3478 seconds (105.197mh) but did not advance out of Round 2; he will start 11th on the inside of Row 6. Leist’s time of 1 minute, 8.1622 seconds (103.940) netted him slot 14 on the outside of Row 7.
Although both drivers had problems in the previous practice sessions as they tried to sort out the bumpy street circuit with long straights and a mixture of high and low speed corners, they appeared stronger in qualifying, especially Leist who had run no higher than 22nd in three practice sessions.
Kanaan, who had been in the top-10 in two of three practice sessions—he was 12th in the other—had some problems this morning which he feels may have cost him some speed this afternoon.
“That’s where we’ve been around (10th) all year long,” said Kanaan, who has qualified in the fifth row the past two races. “I think this weekend we could have been a little bit better but we had a few issues electronically that put us behind. And missing a session is never a good thing but it’s racing. Problems happen and I’m glad it happened today and not tomorrow. But I’m pleased--I think it was a big improvement on the 4 car as well so we’re gonna go race.
Asked about the race tomorrow on the historic street circuit--it will be the 44th running of the Grand Prix--Kanaan replied, “It’s always tough when the field is this close. It’s going to be a fuel mileage race so we’ve got to talk about strategy here. Strategy is going to play a big role here—it always has, so we’ll see.”
Leist saw the track for the first time on Thursday when he did the Track Walk with Kanaan and the engineers. Although the track had been on the Indy Lights schedule in the past, last year it was not, so unlike St. Petersburg, Leist had no previous experience from which to draw on this weekend.Despite the struggles in practice, the engineers were able to come up with a setup to the rookie’s liking as he posted his fastest laps of the weekend in qualifying.
“Tough qualifying. We’ve been struggling a little bit with setup and myself as well because it’s a new track for me, it’s my first time here, and IndyCar has a lot of great drivers. The car is very good. We just missed the top-12 by one position,” said Leist who finished seventh in his group of 12.
“I’m pretty happy,” he continued. “I’m confident that we will have a great car in race trim and hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow.”
Alexander Rossi won the pole with a time of 1 minute, 6.5528 seconds (106.454mph). Rounding out the Firestone Fast Six were Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Josef Newgarden.
After morning warmup, the 85-lap race around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street course will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network starting at 4 p.m. ET.