THE RHR METHOD EARNS FRANCHITTI THE POLE
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti made the most of the limited grip his Firestone Reds had to offer in qualifying, and with the rest of the field dealing with the same limitation, he and Ganassi engineer Chris Simmons rolled the dice on tire selection for the three-stage time trial process.
With just one lap of peak performance available from the Barber Motorsports Park-specification tires Firestone brought to Sonoma, saving the freshest rubber for the Firestone Fast Six – provided Franchitti made it through the first two rounds – could be the ticket to earning pole position.
Most drivers opted to use one set of new Reds to try and get through Round 1, and for those who qualified for Round 2, the Firestone Fast 12, the majority went for a second set of new Reds to guarantee another one-lap burst to make it into the final stage, the Firestone Fast Six.
Five drivers followed that routine, and were left with no choice but to bolt on a set of used Reds for the final qualifying showdown. Franchitti and Simmons, however, took their cue from what Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay and his engineer Ray Gosselin sprang on the field to earn pole at Mid-Ohio earlier this month. Their choice to use a new set of Reds for Round 1 and stretch them into Round 2 – saving a new set of Reds for the Fast Six – was the exact prescription the No. 10 Ganassi Honda team followed to earn P1 on Saturday.
“We went with new Reds for the final session,” Simmons confirmed. “We were lucky to get through Round 2 on scuffed [Reds]…we took a page out of Hunter-Reay's book and gave him a dose of his own medicine!”
Simmons also verified that he and other engineers will be closely monitoring tire life during the 85-lap race on Sunday, and could alter Franchitti's pit strategy based on tire degradation.
“The guys in the back have some newer Reds to use so they could have a bit more speed at some point, but overall, I don't think the strategy will be similar to Mid-Ohio; I don't think anyone will be trying to two-stop the race again, but we could see people running out of tires before the run out of fuel. There's nothing wrong with the tires – the circuit is just slippery. It's the same for everybody; it will be a challenge to put the power down, for sure. That's about all we know to expect at this point.”
SPECIAL HELMET LIVERY FOR DIXIE
Ganassi's Scott Dixon wore a special helmet livery during Wednesday's official pre-race test at Sonoma Raceway that was created as part of a charity promotion the Kiwi is aiding.
Organized by Honda's Jane Bready, Dixon told RACER he was proud to wear the helmet which will be given to the winner of the Power of 2 raffle he and fellow IndyCar driver Alex Tagliani are supporting.
“It's all being done to raise awareness about cancer research, and Jane's really been a huge help bringing everything together,” he said. “I have a helmet livery I've stuck with for quite a while; it changes colors a bit, but it's the same basic concept, so it was really cool to wear this special design and represent the Teens Living with Cancer organization.”
Teens Living with Cancer <http://www.teenslivingwithcancer.org/
> solicited design ideas from the kids involved with the program, and the winning livery, as voted on by the kids themselves, went to a young woman named Taylor who was diagnosed with two brain tumors in 2011.
“The gray in my design represents brain cancer,” she said. “In 2010, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer - the pink design. My aunt died of ovarian cancer - the teal design; my grandfather died of colon cancer - the blue design; and a family friend has prostate cancer - the light blue design. Through my experience I have met many other kids with cancer. A lot of them have leukemia - the orange design. The lime green design represents non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Purple is my favorite color and it represents cancer awareness. The gold ribbon on the back of the helmet represents childhood cancer awareness.
“I chose the words HOPE because we all ‘hope' for a cure; the word LOVE because the ‘love' of God, family, and friends helped me through the difficult times and continue to help me through the uncharted waters ahead; the word LIFE because after a cancer diagnosis life is never the same again. Priorities change, you learn to live one day at a time, enjoying each moment. You have a better appreciation of life, family, friends, the beauty of nature, etc.; the word FAITH represents my faith in God - without faith in God there is no hope."
IndyCar Series regulations require drivers to wear helmets constructed from carbon fiber, and due to the helmet carrying Taylor's livery being made from a different material, Dixon was only allowed to wear it for a brief period during the test day. Despite the limited on-track use of Taylor's winning design, Bready hopes to bring Taylor and her family to the St. Petersburg Grand Prix next year to meet and spend time with Dixon.
* Dale Coyne Racing's James Davison experienced Honda's most recent fuel system issue during the third practice session, sounding like he had 5.5 cylinders at his disposal before stopping to have the problem diagnosed. Honda Performance Development technicians dove in during the break before qualifying to find and rectify the issue, but the Aussie could ill-afford the shortened practice session. Despite the fuel-related hiccup, Davison had no issues in qualifying and was able to post the 21st-fastest lap.
* Veteran Indy car engineer and longtime Ganassi Racing man Andy Brown lost his wife Christine to cancer this week. Brown, who was a major part of the Ganassi team's emergence as an IndyCar Series powerhouse, returned to his native England to care for his wife during her fight with the disease. In addition to carrying stickers that memorialize Chip Ganassi's father Floyd who died this week at the age of 87, the team also added stickers to its three entries near the rear wing to honor Mrs. Brown. Sonoma Raceway polesitter Dario Franchitti had her on his mind after climbing from the car, and reached down to run his hand across her sticker while waiting for the pole photos to be taken.
* Former Indy car PR guru Katie Brannan and her husband Kyle, who worked as an Indy car and sports car engineer before moving to the private sector this year, made a grand appearance in the Sonoma paddock pushing their young son in a stroller. Plenty of hugs and handshakes were shared with the popular couple, and Kyle says a part-time return to the sport could be in his future.