By David Phillips
On a day that humbled the mightiest teams in the IndyCar Series, Dario Franchitti saved the day for the status quo by firmly capturing the pole position for tomorrow’s Honda Indy Toronto.
A two-time pole winner at Toronto in his Champ Car days, Franchitti posted a best time of 1:01.0249 to emerge comfortably fastest among the Firestone Fast Six, beating Will Power in the third Penske Dallara-Honda by more than two tenths of a second. With Graham Rahal, Alex Tagliani and Mike Conway rounding out the top six, names like Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon were conspicuously absent from the sharp end of the grid.
For his part, Castroneves exited his car in an agitated frame of mind after failing to make the final round of knock-out qualifying, blaming Dixon for blocking his fast lap. Dixon was non-plussed, noting that he had slowed to get a gap to the car in front of him and hadn’t deliberately hampered his long-time rival.
“I was just reacting to (Alex) Tagliani who slowed in front of me,” he said. “It’s tough to get a clear lap out there.”
Franchitti only got one fast lap in the final round of qualifying but it was all he needed. The Target/Ganassi team had done a bit of educated guesswork overnight after Friday found Franchitti ensconced in sixth on the practice time sheets. As Franchitti had parked his car in the pits after spinning in the midst of monsoon in the morning practice session, he wasn’t quite sure what he’d have for qualifying. But it was more than enough.
“The guys worked really hard to improve the car overnight, but with the rain this morning we didn’t get too much running,” he said. “But the car was good out of the box. That lap I did in the Fast Six, I came in afterwards and said, basically, ‘That’s it. That was a heulluva lap. That was as good a lap as I’ve driven around here. If they can go quicker, let them have it because that’s all she’s got.”
They couldn’t go quicker and Franchitti had pole, but that didn’t mean Power, Tagliani and Conway in particular were disappointed with their performance. Power and Tagliani are both driving limited programs and it was not lost on most observers that they outperformed many of the series top regulars.
“My car was good out of the box,” said Power, “just like at Long Beach we didn’t make any big changes. I love road courses and street circuits . . . and now I love ovals, they became much easier with Penske for some reason! I’m just doing my job.”
“Will is out front of his two Penske teammates, said Tagliani, “but he’s in a Penske car. “We’re in the Conquest car, so we feel pretty good to qualify ahead of the Penske cars and a Ganassi car. That’s the reality right now . . . when you come here, last minute like this with very limited running, you need to put everything on the line to try to do very well.”
Indeed, Tagliani was fastest of all in his group in the second of the three phases of the qualifying session, but found the car a little lacking in the Fast Six.
“The car was really good I qualifying one and two” he said, “but we lost a little of the balance in the third round.”
Similarly, although Conway made the Top Six for the second consecutive week, he couldn’t quite match the faster cars in the final round.
“We definitely improved our car for today,” he said. “The pace was quite comfortable in each of the first two phases but the last one we weren’t able to match the pace; we were lacking a bit of grip.”
In addition to the Penske and Dixon Target/Ganassi cars, the astute observer will have noticed that not one of the four Andretti Green Racing cars made the top six. Indeed, not one made the top 10 . . . or the top 15, for that matter as Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick will start on Row Nine while Tony Kanaan is 20th and Hideki Mutoh 22nd on a day when, apart from the fact that AGR cars finished 1-2 in the Firestone Indy Lights race, nothing went right for the team. All but Mutoh hit the wall in the rainy morning practice, then Mutoh and Kanaan collected one another in qualifying and neither Andretti nor Patrick could get a handle on the track conditions following the rain.
Nor could Paul Tracy, for that matter. After posting a top six time out of the box yesterday morning, Tracy and the KVRacing Technology team struggled to keep up with the changing track conditions. Although he was quick in the morning rain, he battled persistent understeer in qualifying and failed to advance past the first round of knock-out qualifying.TIMES:
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m01.0249s
2. Will Power Penske 1m01.2851s
3. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m01.3301s
4. Justin Wilson Coyne 1m01.5157s
5. Alex Tagliani Conquest 1m01.6980s
6. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 1m02.0090s
7. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m01.4419s
8. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m01.4718s
9. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 1m01.5348s
10. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m01.7954s
11. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m01.8575s
12. Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt 1m01.9680s
13. Mario Moraes KV 1m01.9704s
14. Tomas Scheckter Dreyer & Reinbold 1m01.8681s
15. Paul Tracy KV 1m01.9730s
16. EJ Viso HVM 1m02.1577s
17. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 1m02.2138s
18. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 1m02.5839s
19. Ed Carpenter Vision 1m02.5907s
20. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 1m02.6556s
21. Dan Wheldon Panther 1m02.8411s
22. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 1m03.0413s
23. Richard Antinucci 3G 1m04.5132s