By Steve Wittich
For the third time in nine Indy Lights races, Andretti Autosport rookie Hunter McElrea will have a clear view into Turn 1.
McElrea was one of three drivers to average over 159mph, putting together a consistent two-lap effort that averaged 159.503mph.
The pole win is the 22-year-old’s 12th career Road To Indy pole.
An Andretti Autosport driver has now won the pole for seven of the 11 Indy Lights races held at the Iowa Speedway.
McElrea had to survive the qualifying attempts of three drivers, including teammate Sting Ray Robb and points leader Linus Lundqvist (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing), the other drivers who averaged over 159mph.
Lundqvist’s two-lap average was 0.164mph behind McElrea and will start outside the front row.
Robb, who trails Lundqvist in the championship, will start behind his teammate inside the second row. The Sekady sponsored driver will have Danial Frost (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing) starting outside him.
Saturday at the 0.894-mile Iowa Speedway oval began with bright sun, humidity, and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires qualifying.
When the green flag flew at 8:30 am, and the first driver, Kyffin Simpson (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing), took to the track for his two laps, the ambient temperature was 84F, and the track temperature was 94F.
The drivers qualified in reverse order of the entrant standings, meaning Linus Lundqvist, with an 87-point championship lead, was the last driver to qualify.
Christian Bogle (HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing), the third driver to take to the track, went almost three mph quicker than Simpson to grab the provisional pole. He told INDYCAR Radio that they didn’t change the car between Friday practice and qualifying.
Force Indy’s Ernie Francis, Jr. in the No. 99 was the fourth driver on the track, slotting in between Bogle and Simpson. He told INDYCAR Radio that they made improvements overnight and that he was happy with the effort.
Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), who is being coached this year by 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot and is being engineered by Tim Neff, a championship winner himself, grabbed the provisional pole. He told INDYCAR Radio that it was a different experience to get up early and hang it all on the line in an early qualifying session. Abel will start on the outside of the third row.
HMD Motorsports veteran Danial Frost utilized the low line, grabbing the provisional pole as the first driver to go over 158mph.
Christian Rasmussen, an Indy Lights oval rookie, was consistent but not fast enough to knock Frost from the top spot. When he talked to INDYCAR Radio, he didn’t think much was left in the car. The Dane will start from the fifth spot.
McElrea was the tenth driver to qualify and the first to go faster than 159mph.
His Andretti Autosport teammate Matthew Brabham, fast throughout Friday practice, didn’t have the same speed, turning in only the eighth quickest two-lap average. The third-generation racer told the INDYCAR Radio Network that with a similar compound rule to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES (essentially, you race what you qualify), his team opted for more downforce for the 75-lap race.
McElrea’s teammate Robb was the second last driver with a chance to knock the American-born Kiwi from the pole. The Idahoan was the second driver to turn a lap over 159mph but was not quite as quick as his teammate.
Championship leader Lundqvist, the last driver with a chance to steal the pole from McElrea, was close on his first lap, but the Swede couldn’t quite get it done on his last lap.