LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) – Graham Rahal was expecting a lot more from himself Saturday in qualifying for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Coming off a pole-winning effort two weeks ago at the IndyCar Series season-opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., Rahal was less than pleased with a seventh-place performance on the Long Beach street circuit. He didn’t even make it to the Firestone Final Six shootout that determines the top qualifying spot.

“It’s obviously disappointing that we didn’t make it through round three of qualifying,” the 20-year-old Rahal said. “After St. Petersburg, we had expectations of making it to the last round. I think we had the pace to do it, but we weren’t able to.

“You expect to have a big gain on new (tires), but we had nothing when everybody else gained quite a bit. That’s how it goes sometimes.”

Rahal, the son of longtime racing star Bobby Rahal, said he and his Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team have their work cut out for them in Sunday’s race.

Troubled team

Andretti Green Racing, one of the powerhouse teams in the IndyCar Series, isn’t looking very elite these days.

After only one of its four entries – Tony Kanaan – started higher than 15th and finished better than 13th at St. Petersburg, Saturday’s qualifying wasn’t much more promising.

Kanaan, a former series champion, again led the way, but qualified a disappointing 11th. Hideki Mutoh crashed and will start the race 17th, Marco Andretti qualified 19th and Danica Patrick also crashed and will start 22nd.

“We had a pretty good start to the weekend, but now we’re struggling,” Kanaan said. “We need to step up our game and make the car better.

“I think the whole team is struggling finding the speed we need. We’ll work tonight on figuring out how to turn this weekend around.”

Little Al – again

Al Unser Jr. lived up to his old Long Beach nickname: “King of the Beach.”

The retired two-time Indianapolis 500 winner came from the rear of the pack and made a four-wide pass on a late restart to win Saturday’s Toyota Pro-Celebrity Race – his eighth win on the seaside street circuit.

Unser, whose 47th birthday is Sunday, won events in the old CART series six times and also won the Pro-Celebrity event once before – in 1985.

This time, Unser, whose last race was the 2007 Indy 500, took the lead with two laps remaining in the 10-lap event and easily held off NASCAR’s reigning truck series champion Johnny Benson in the race featuring identically prepared Toyota Scions. Former race winner and local Toyota dealer Tom Rudnai, another pro, was third, followed by the celebrity winner, actor Keanu Reeves.

“That was just cool,” Reeves said, grinning.

“There was a crash and I went past some cars and, all of a sudden, I’m the winner.”

Unser, now a full-time IRL official, impressed all the celebrities with his coaching and personality.

“He is just an incredibly nice guy and couldn’t have been more helpful,” Reeves said. “He tells you what to do and how to do it, then he smiles while he’s killing you on the track. He’s like a Jedi Master.”

RED OR BLACK: The IndyCar teams will again have a choice on Sunday of black side-walled primary tires or softer red-sidewalled optional tires.

The option was introduced to IndyCar by Firestone at St. Petersburg, but this weekend’s red optional is softer and likely a bit quicker than at the opener.

Each car must run the reds for a minimum of two green flag laps in the race, with the idea that the softer tires makes the car faster but wear out sooner.

“It’s a much, much softer tire (than at St. Petersburg),” said pole winner Will Power. “So it’s going to be interesting to see how long it lasts.”

Al Speyer, head of the Firestone IndyCar program, said that there is more to the strategy than just the rubber compound that is used.

“There are more difference between the drivers and the teams’ approach than there is between the tires,” he said Saturday after qualifying. “There’s drivers that are harder and easier on the tires. For drivers who can make a tire last, these (reds) will suit them well.”

AP-ES-04-18-09 2040EDT

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.