Dario Franchitti beats Penske team for IndyCar pole
Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti overcame a spin in the final Fast-Six qualifying segment to win the pole position for Sunday's IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. Franchitti's late lap of 1m16.7987s on the 2.3-mile challenging Infineon track was just fast enough to beat Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves who led most of the session.
After surviving a 100-yard drive through the dirt early, Franchitti did a good job to regain his composure and pull out a fast lap before the session ended.
Andretti Racing's Marco Andretti was 4th, his teammate Hideki Mutoh 5th and Graham Rahal rounded out the top-6 for NHLR.
Franchitti, who is the only driver to be in the Fast Six in every IndyCar race this year, said he had to slow down to go faster.
"My rear tires were locking up under braking so I had to back off and brake earlier and that actually dropped my lap times."
Franchitti won a single point for pole position and is now 19 points behind point leader Scott Dixon with just 4 races remaining in the championship.
The Andretti team, the ownership just this week split apart with Michael Andretti now owning the whole team, did an excellent job of getting all five of their drivers in the top-12. Danica Patrick ended up slowest of the five drivers. Marco Andretti showed well to beat all his teammates this time around, while Frenchman Franck Montagny just missed the Fast Six with his last minute rag-tag team Andretti scrapped together to run him in the 5th car for this race.
Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson was expected to be a contender for pole but Wilson bent a rear suspension wishbone during qualifying and never had a chance to put on the faster soft tires and ended up 19th.
Obviously we are disappointed," commented Wilson. "We had some good improvements between sessions and knew where we needed to go to challenge for the front row again, but the wishbone was an unexpected halt to our progress."
"Justin is a good starter and perhaps we need some unique strategy for tomorrow's race," reported team owner Dale Coyne. "This is a difficult place to pass, but we have lots of variables for tomorrow."
Milka Duno was again 7-seconds off the pace and is just a moving chicane for the rest of the drivers. She will start dead last yet again.
After an on-track incident involving Conquest Racing’s Nelson Philippe and Team Penske’s Will Power, Conquest Racing announced Saturday afternoon that they have pulled out of this weekend’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma due to an injury sustained by Philippe in the crash. With Philippe and Power both out, the starting grid was reduced from 22-cars to 24-cars. There was no indication from Penske Racing's Tim Cindric that they would run anyone in Power's backup car, even though the team did prepare it.
Philippe suffered an open fracture of the left foot and underwent surgery Saturday afternoon. The Frenchman, who also suffered a concussion, will be kept overnight for observation.
Philippe’s #34 Conquest Racing/I Drive Green car spun at the exit of Turn 3, a blind and downhill portion of the circuit, and came to a stop on the left side of the racetrack, in the ‘racing’ line. While E.J. Viso attempted to avoid the car and only clipped the front of the #34 machine with his left-rear tire, Power, also cresting the hill, was not as fortunate and couldn't avoid the debris and hit the right side of Philippe’s car.
“We never want to have to pull out of a race, especially under these circumstances,” said Conquest team owner Eric Bachelart. “While we regret not being able to participate in this weekend’s event, the most important thing is that Nelson will be alright. It was a scary incident and we wish both Nelson and Will speedy recoveries.”
Sunday's 75-lap race starts at 2:50 PM Pacific Time and will be shown live on Versus.
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, PEAK Performance Pole Award winner): "It's pretty cool (to make every Firestone Fast Six this season). It's so hard in the IndyCar Series with the competition level; there are so many good road racers. To make it into the Fast Six each time is an achievement every time. So to be in them all, I've got to thank my guys for giving me good cars. Sometimes you have to hang on to it as well and sometimes you have to wheel around. Today I had a pretty good car. In a couple corners I had to commit to them and hang on, but in general the car was really good. I'm very happy to get the Target car on the pole for the race.
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Team Penske, qualified second): "I had a pretty bad practice this morning; I spent more time in the dirt than on the tarmac. (But) I had a feeling we were in decent shape going into qualifying. The car felt good from the get-go and got better and I was right back into the groove. I felt confident going through the session with our strategy on tires. I could have gone quicker in (the Firestone Fast Six), but I just didn't get a clean lap together and I had a locking issue with the brakes. I was frustrated I couldn't get the pole, but Dario (Franchitti) was really quick and he certainly did a good job on used reds."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske, qualified third): "Qualifying was pretty exciting today, and I think the race shouldn't be much different. I'm a bit disappointed as I thought the Team Penske car was better than third place, and I'm sure Ryan (Briscoe - qualified 2nd) feels the same way. During the first session, we had a problem with our fuel pressure which the team was able to fix for Q2. Then in Q2, we had an issue with the throttle, which they were able to fix for Q3, so I guess taking all of this into consideration we did ok. The important thing is that the car is great and I'm feeling confident going into tomorrow's race." (About Will Power): "I also want to say that we were all very concerned about Will (Power) and hope that he has a quick recovery. You never want to see any of your colleagues get hurt, especially a teammate. Will has done a lot to help us out this year, and it's just a shame that this had to happen to him today. We all know the risks involved in racing, but that doesn't make it any easier when someone you are close to gets hurt."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venom Energy, qualified fourth): "It wasn't that bad of a qualifying effort for the Venom boys. We're getting there. We're just learning how to use the red tires to our advantage."
HIDEKI MUTOH (No. 27 Formula Dream, qualified fifth): "Right from the get-go, the Formula Dream car was very good. It's the first time I'm in the Fast Six, so I'm happy. I made a huge mistake in Turn 5. Hopefully, we can have a good race and score a podium finish tomorrow."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 02 McDonald's Racing Team, qualified sixth): "The McDonald's car felt pretty good all day, especially for not having tested here. I thought we did a good job. When we showed up we were pretty close. There is still work to be done because we certainly struggled quite a lot in that last session of qualifying. It wasn't a very comfortable feeling; we'd like to be closer than that. Overall, the guys worked hard today. We made a lot of big changes over lunch, and they worked out, so they're going to sleep well tonight. We made the Firestone Fast Six again, which means we made it every race this year but one and that is a good feeling. Now we just need to have a straightforward race tomorrow, save some fuel, get by some of these guys and be in it for the win."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, qualified 10th): "(Qualifying) was pretty dismal, actually. I'm really frustrated. We've been chasing a brake problem from this morning. Every time you really start to push the car and you go to brake later, we would lock the rears (brakes). We could see that there was something going on, we're just not sure what it is. The saving grace was Dario (Franchitti) winning the pole which is fantastic. It helps us keep some points off those Penske's. We'll have to go off strategy tomorrow and try something a bit different." (About tomorrow's race): "This is the last of our road courses and then we have a whole run of mile-and-a-half ovals. All three of them are quite a bit different from each other. We faired pretty well last season at all of those races, obviously; winning one of them and finishing second in the other two. Hopefully we can drag something out of tomorrow's race and then have a good run on the last ovals."
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