Dario Franchitti Paces Toronto Practice

Dario Franchitti paced both the morning and afternoon practice sessions in Toronto Friday afternoon. (Photo Courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series)
Dario Franchitti paced both the morning and afternoon practice sessions in Toronto Friday afternoon. (Photo Courtesy IZOD IndyCar Series)

TORONTO, Ontario – Dario Franchitti hopes to get back in the race for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship after he was out of the previous IndyCar contest before it ever really started. Franchitti suffered a blown engine on the pace lap of the Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway on June 23 and that last place finish dropped him to eighth in the standings, 70 points behind series points leader Will Power.

Franchitti was back with a vengeance during Friday’s two practice sessions for the Honda Indy Toronto as the fastest driver in each practice. He finished the day with a fast time of 1:00.278 around the 1.755-mile temporary street course at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. That equated to a lap speed of 104.813 miles per hour as the Scotsman attempts to stay in contention for a fifth IndyCar Series championship, which would be his fourth-straight.

But it won’t be easy especially at Toronto, where the top 21 cars were separated by just one-second in practice on Friday.

“I hope being fast in both the morning and afternoon session is good for tomorrow,” Dixon said afterwards. “Scott Dixon and I have been going in two different on set-up and I ran two different set-ups and both were pretty good so I am not sure what direction we’ll go with set-up tomorrow. Typical Toronto – it’s as challenging as ever – from concrete to asphalt – smooth to bumps and areas with no grip. For day one we are happy with the Target car and we’ll make some changes to go faster tomorrow and try to stay up front. It’s always good to race here -we’ll just put the best car we can on the track and hope to run up front.”

Rookie Simon Pagenaud of France was second quick at 1:00.390 for a speed of 104.619 mph for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

“It went very well,” he said. “We went off of what we had in Detroit, and it’s a good surprise that it’s working well. It’s a nice track here, it’s difficult because there’s so many tarmac changes, but it’s tricky for us drivers, it’s actually a good exercise. These guys [Dario Franchitti] have got a lot more experience here, but I’m glad I’m training him. Hope I can do the same tomorrow, but I can say that the team did a fantastic job preparing the car, and you know it’s nice to see two Hondas up there.”

Dixon was third-quick at 1:00.542 (104.357 mph) and believes there is more speed to come out of his car.

“Traffic was our biggest problem, really,” Dixon said. “My fastest lap came on Lap 12 of the session when the tires had already started going off. We actually should have been fastest around lap five, but that’s traffic – and traffic is Toronto.”

Justin Wilson, the 2010 pole sitter, was fourth on the time chart (1:00.648) in the No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ car for Dale Coyne Racing to give Honda a sweep of the top four positions in practice. Wilson was involved in a pit lane incident early in the morning session when his car “refused to go into neutral” and slid into the No. 7 Dragon Racing car of Sebastien Bourdais.

Crew members Michael Cole of Dale Coyne Racing and Daniel Martin of Dragon Racing were treated and released from the infield care center. Raffi Aroyan of Dragon Racing was transported to St. Michael’s Hospital for further evaluation, which revealed no injuries. Chuck Homan of Dragon Racing was treated at St. Michael’s Hospital and released.

“I came down pit lane and the car refused to go into neutral,” Wilson said. “So I was stuck in first, I couldn’t get neutral, and, on top of that, these carbon brakes don’t work when they’re cold, so was hard on the brakes and I couldn’t stop. At the last second I tried to dive into the wall to take speed off, but those guys were there and had no idea I was coming and even diving to the wall I still hit them. I really hope they are OK.”

Wilson returned to the track but was caught up in another incident at Turn 8 when he was forced to put the No. 18 car in the wall rather than hit the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car of Alex Tagliani which had spun into the wall in front of him.

“I turned the corner and saw that the track was blocked and that Tag was in the wall,” Wilson said. “I couldn’t stop so rather than hit him head-on I just turned back and hit the wall. It was just a horrible session. We’ll just have to regroup and hopefully get back out for the next session.”

Hometown driver James Hinchcliffe also had a mechanical problem with his No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet. To compound his woes, the Andretti Autosport team will replace the Chevrolet engine, which will result in a 10-grid spot penalty for Sunday’s race.

“Unfortunately, today is a day to forget really,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s too bad what happened the second session because with the first session not going too smoothly, we were really looking to make some gains. Hopefully, we can learn a lot off what Marco (Andretti) and Ryan (Hunter-Reay) accomplished, but it’s just putting us on the back foot – not only with setting the car up but with the engine penalty as well. Certainly it makes it more a challenging weekend than we wanted, but at the end of the day it’s still possible for the GoDaddy car to move forward. Last time we got an engine penalty we were able to come back and finished on the podium. So we may be down but we’re certainly not out.”

It was a bad day for the Canadian’s as Quebec native Alex Tagliani was also penalized 10-grid positions as the team chose to install its fourth fresh Honda engine of the season instead of refitting its Indianapolis 500 practice/qualifying engine after meeting the mileage limit of its Indianapolis 500 race engine (Rule 15.5.4.b violation). The No. 78 Lotus-HVM Racing car driven by Simona de Silvestro will receive a grid penalty because the team changed out the engine before it reached its mileage limit defined in Rule 15.5.1.

IndyCar has a one-hour practice Saturday at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time before the knockout qualifying/Firestone Fast Six pole qualifying from 1:05 p.m. to 2:25 p.m.

Up front, this is not a typical Franchitti season but he realizes he has to pick up the pace beginning at Toronto if he is going to have a fighting chance of winning this year’s championship.

“I just keep fighting,” Franchitti said. “I think if you’re going to quit, you’re in the wrong job. Trust me, I went through years of this kind of stuff happening, and so for it to happen for a couple of races, you just shrug it off. I think I can see it on the team, as well, they can shrug it off, and you get back up and you keep fighting. That’s what we are trying to do.”

Judging by past performance, Franchitti is heading to a pretty good track for his big turnaround in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. Franchitti has won two of the last three races at Toronto and won the CART race on the streets of Canada’s largest city in 1999.

“Well, I’ve always loved racing in Toronto,” said the popular Scotsman who drives for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. “I think it started off in 1997 when I was driving for Carl Hogan and had a pretty good start there, getting my first pole position. I’ve always enjoyed the track and the challenge of the bumpy surface and the multiple surface changes there. So that’s part of it. Again, I definitely love the fans out there. I think it’s something to do with the fact that it’s quite a big Scottish and Italian expat community there. It’s always been fun to race there and definitely proud of the wins I’ve managed to have there.”

Last year, Franchitti got some breaks along the way as he was able to rally from behind and take over the championship lead in what would be the final IndyCar Series race of the 2011 season at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2.

But this year, apart from his tremendous victory in the most competitive Indianapolis 500 in history, luck has not been on Franchitti’s side in 2012.

“I think that’s part of racing, and I think it evens out,” Franchitti said. “There are some periods when just nothing would go right, and then certainly last three years, things would if there was kind of a if there was a 50/50 situation, it would tend to go my way. And this year and the years previous, if it was a 50/50, maybe it doesn’t work out, and that’s just part of life. You’ve just got to keep pushing and just keep fighting in there. I think myself and every other drivers goes through exactly the same thing; whether it’s on track incidents or whether it’s the first race of the year, running out of fuel in the last corner. There’s times before where we would have run out of fuel crossing the finish line or some of those mechanical failures, whether it’s the engine or suspension, braking; I think we have had four races out of, what, nine where we have had either issues with either mechanically or running out of fuel.

So it’s just part of it, and you’ve just got to deal with it and brush yourself off when it happens and move on.”

Franchitti has plenty of time to catch up on his competition and get back in serious championship consideration. But for now he is experiencing a side of IndyCar Series racing that is unfamiliar.

“It’s very humbling when it happens,” Franchitti said. “I’m definitely proud of the four championships and the three 500 wins. I know that the guys on the Target team and the guys at Andretti Autosport, what we did together, it’s something that we it’s something we very proud of, because it’s a hard thing to do.

“As far as what’s next, you never know if you’re going to win another race, but you’ve just got to try you go out every weekend and try to win that race. It’s tough in the championship right now, we are lying eighth, and we are still definitely mathematically in it, which is somewhat surprising with some of the mechanical failures we’ve had. Some of the issues we’ve had this year, but we are still definitely in the fight and we’ll be fighting all the way to the finish.”

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