STEAM CORNERS, Ohio — Local hero Graham Rahal understands the importance of starting up front in The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio IZOD IndyCar Series race.
Rahal is hoping to claim a front row start during Saturday’s Firestone “Fast Six” qualifications that set the lineup for Sunday’s race.
“We performed terribly in qualifying but the last couple of road courses we’ve done a better job,” Rahal said. “I hope we can get back on that kind of kick. We need to do better on the ovals, too. But I’ve seen this year versus 2009 it’s the complete opposite. I qualified great that year but raced terribly and this year we race very well but qualify poorly.”
Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing is from nearby Dublin, Ohio but grew up in New Albany, Ohio — both suburbs of Columbus.
Rahal turned a fast time of 1:09.6031 in the No. 38 IndyCar but the son of three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal wanted more.
“Speeds weren’t there,” Rahal said. “Last year we were 1 second faster in the first session. There was grip in areas. What you see at this track is a lot of sealer or pavement patches in the middle of the corner. You see it in Turn 1 in the middle of the Keyhole or on the back straightaway. Those patches are extremely grippy but the problem is getting to them or getting off them. They are extremely loose. I almost lost them in Turn 11 a couple of times. We’ve got to find a way to make it a little more friendly getting to the patches and get to the corners that don’t have them. I would anticipate the speeds coming up. I would have anticipated the speeds being a lot higher than this.”
E.J. Viso of KV Racing was second quick at 1:09.6522 followed by IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Dario Franchitti’s 1:09.6936. Power was fourth with Dreyer & Reinbold’s Justin Wilson rounding out the top five at 1:09.7912.
Danica Patrick, who denied reports that a move to NASCAR is imminent, was a distant 22nd out of 27 cars on the track Friday with a time of 1:11.6077.
Many of the drivers were struggling to “Get a Grip” on the slick, 2.258-mile, 12-turn road Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“It was really slippery out there,” Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe said. “The track is 4 seconds off pace. It’s pretty typical for Mid-Ohio. Every year it is like that. It rubbers in as the weekend goes on. It feels pretty good but I don’t know how much this session helps because we have to let the track come to us a bit. Honestly, today’s session means nothing at all. As we get closer to qualifying it’s going to really be quick. The track will change a lot and we’ll have to pick up the corner speeds every time we go out.”
Briscoe was ninth quick in the session for Team Penske with a fast time of 1:10.1394. That was one position better than Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves’ 1:10.2027 in the No. 3 Penske entry.
“The Penske Truck Rental run smooth but it was very loose,” Castroneves said. “The track was very dirty in the beginning even when you have other cars running. That’s OK – we know what we need to do and we’ll go for it. We had a good data day even though the track wasn’t up there. The speeds will be 2 seconds faster but everybody is in the same boat.”
The top Team Penske driver was Will Power, who was the fourth fastest at 1:09.7198 in the No. 12 Team Verizon entry.
“This track is really weird with the lack of grip and then every lap it gets faster and faster so it’s almost impossible to tell what you’ve got,” Power said. “It’s very unpredictable. It felt like the coating on top of the track is breaking up some. It might rain tomorrow but we got something out of this session. We’ll have a good think about it tonight. This is my kind of track. I love this circuit — smooth and fast.”