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Penalites Block Honda Qualifying Effort at Watkins Glen

  • Aleshin, Hinchcliffe, Rahal, Sato lose advancements due to penalities
  • Contested calls affect Honda qualifying results

A.J. Foyt Racing’s Jack Hawksworth continued to impress as the Verizon IndyCar Series returned to Watkins Glen International Raceway, qualifying ninth on Saturday for Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen, while a series of contentious rulings from race officials prevented other Honda drivers from advancing through the three rounds of knockout qualifying.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin was sixth fastest in the second round, but was judged to have impeded Juan Pablo Montoya and had his two fastest laps taken away. That ruling dropped Aleshin out of the Fast Six and promoted Will Power into the final group.

Power also benefitted from an earlier ruling that penalized Aleshin’s teammate, James Hinchcliffe, following a half-spin in the first round of qualifying. Graham Rahal was a third Honda driver to be penalized in the opening round, and also disputed the call that prevented him from moving forward to second-round qualifying.

Sunday’s 60-lap race, penultimate round in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live network television coverage on the NBC Sports Network.

Jack Hawksworth (#41 A.J. Foyt Racing Honda) qualified 9th: “It was an interesting qualifying session. There was a lot of drama obviously in the first [round]. We did the one lap on reds and then we were on our second lap when the red [flag] came out. We crossed the line and we thought we were through and then we were out. Earlier in the session, when I was on a flyer on my first set of reds, Graham [Rahal] drew a penalty and we then transferred. It was pretty decent [second round run] but maybe we were just on the wrong place on the track. [Will] Power just kept backing [us] up a little bit, and perhaps we could have gone a couple tenths quicker. The car was good and we’ve been pretty competitive all weekend so we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

Mikhail Aleshin (#7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) will start 10th after a penalty prevented advancement to final qualifying: “I think that I did all that I could [to avoid impeding the competition]. I thought that I just needed to let the other drivers go so that I could have a clear lap. I knew that Montoya was behind me so I moved to the right. You can see it on the replay. They’re far away and I’m moving to the right. INDYCAR gave me the penalty when I had two identical laps and I was in the top six [to advance to the final qualifying round]. They didn’t take only one lap, they took away two fastest laps, even though I moved to the right. I think it’s not very fair. I have no words. I’m just sorry for my fans because I did all I could and the team did a fantastic job to bring the SMP Racing #7 car up there but here we go. We’re going to forget about today and fight for tomorrow.”

James Hinchcliffe (#5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) will start 13th after a penalty prevented advancement to second-round qualifying: “It was an incredibly frustrating day at the office. Honestly, the spin is irrelevant. We’re not advancing because of the decisions INDYCAR made. It’s just really disappointing. We put a lot of work into the Arrow Electronics car and made it a lot better from yesterday and we had P4 in that session. The guys did such a good job and we’re now going to be starting way further back than we deserve to be for really no reason. The next step is to make a wicked fast race car and pass them all.”

Graham Rahal (#5 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda) will start 20th a after penalty prevented advancement to second-round qualifying:  “I’m very disappointed with the [officials’] ruling [deleting his best two lap times in the first qualifying round for impeding another competitor]. We obviously have a fast race car, but [now] we’re going to have to put our heads down and try to come from behind. There is a lot of work to be done. We will give it all we can to try to come up with good strategy to help us make our way to the front.”