Dario Franchitti expected to be contending for the pole position Friday for the Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He didn't expect to be doing it in extreme conditions.
Oppressive heat – 94 degrees with 80 percent humidity – nearly trumped the championship as the story heading into Saturday's IndyCar season finale. Despite drawing the No. 2 qualifying slot, usually a major hindrance to the pole position, Franchitti's early four-lap run of 212.696 mph held up for the No. 1 starting position on a hot, greasy racetrack that seemed to get worse as the session continued.
“When we came down and tested here (Sept. 25), we were like, ‘You're kidding me, right?'” Franchitti said of the heat wave affecting South Florida. “Even the people who live here are surprised by it. It's horrible.”
Franchitti, teammate Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe are battling for the championship in Saturday's race, which starts at 5 p.m. ET and will be televised live by Versus. More of the same heat and humidity are expected at race time.
“It's just uncomfortable, isn't it?” Franchitti said. “It's uncomfortable to sit in the car. It's not so bad when the breeze is coming by, but to sit in pit lane or go anywhere, it's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable for the fans and for the boys working on the car.”
Franchitti topped Dixon for the pole position, while Briscoe secured the inside second-row starting position. The pole-winning run gave Franchitti a bonus point, cutting Dixon's lead to four points and sending him further ahead of Briscoe. Dixon leads the standings with 570 points, with Franchitti at 566 and Briscoe at 562.
“We weren't that great in practice, but the qualifying run wasn't too bad,” Franchitti said. “I lost the balance a little bit in the last corner, so I didn't really have time to use any of the tools in the car. It just started sliding up the track a bit, and that was that. I'm pretty happy with the Target car. The draw sucked, though. To draw two is the luck of the draw, but it's crap.”
While Franchitti was pleased with the pole and the bonus point, Dixon was equally happy to put both Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars on the front row. Happy mostly that he hadn't spun after making a mistake on his in-car adjustments during the run.
“I made a big mistake on the bars,” Dixon said. “The car already was loose, and I went full stiff instead of full soft. I nearly spun in Turn 3 on my second lap. I was a little tentative to turn the wheel after that.”
Briscoe, who has qualified fourth or better on nine of the 10 oval races this season, missed Dixon's total by just 0.01 second.
“I'm sure tomorrow (the pressure) will escalate and the nerves will come,” Briscoe said. “It's definitely a big deal, a huge deal to me, but I feel ready. I know I've got some very tough competition, but hopefully I can beat them.”
Whether he – or anyone – can beat the heat is the question that weighed most heavily after qualifying.
“You suffer a lot more outside the car than you do inside the car,” said Tony Kanaan, a Miami resident who said he'd never seen it this hot at this time of year. “When you're in the car, you don't feel it at all. It does affect the handling of the car, though, so the bad handling might make you sweat more than the weather does. … The sauna at my house is cooler than this.”