TORONTO – Dario Franchitti capped an impressive Firestone “Fast Six” qualification session with his third pole of the season and the fifth Toronto pole of his career on Friday at Exhibition Place, while Sebastien Bourdais returned to prominence with his first front row start of the season in Saturday’s Honda Indy Toronto “2 in T.O.”
A big surprise, however, is none of the four driers from Andretti Autosport made the Firestone “Fast Six” as defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, E.J. Viso and Canada’s own James Hinchcliffe failed to make the final round of qualifications.
“I’m not surprised,” said this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who starts fourth in the first of two doubleheader races this weekend at Toronto’s Exhibition Place. “I think this season has been extremely competitive. I think we’re all saying the track is lacking grip. If you get it right, you get it right. They have pretty good cars. In my opinion, they didn’t get that lap right. It was really easy to do today.
“But I wouldn’t discount them tomorrow for sure. You watch.”
More about the Andretti Autosport drivers later because Friday was the continued resurgence of Franchitti, who struggled for most of this season but rallied back for a third-place finish last Sunday at Pocono Raceway in a race won by teammate Scott Dixon.
Franchitti won the pole with a fast time of 59.675 around the 11-turn, 1.75-mile street course that winds around Toronto’s Exhibition Place.
“Gee, my first one was 1997,” Franchitti remembered. “T.K. (Kanaan) was here. Will Power was still at school. It feels good to get our third pole of the year. I made it difficult this morning. I made a mistake in turn five there, took the right side off the car. The guys had to work and repair the car. But the Target car was good on Firestone blacks, Firestone reds. I was able to keep finding a little bit every lap. Even the second runner-up on tires in Q3, I was able to push a little bit more.
“I felt really good about that.”
Saturday’s race will be the first time in IZOD IndyCar Series history that a race will feature a “Standing Start.” The cars will line up on Pit Road of a warm-up lap and then take the assigned grid positions on the race course. After a countdown, the race begins with all cars accelerating from their starting box on the grid.
“British Formula 3 was the last time I did them consistently in 1994,” Franchitti recalled. “Dixie (Scott Dixon) and I did them at the Gold Coast and it didn’t end so well. Will was there, because we all crashed into each other the first corner. Jacques Villeneuve spun. Next thing I see Will’s car with no wheels on it parked across the track.
“I stick the thing in reverse, hand-drive car, proceed to reverse into the front bumper of him. I look in the mirror and see Dixon shaking his head.
“Hopefully tomorrow’s standing start goes a bit smoother than that. Most of the people in the field, it’s such a long time since we’ve done standing starts. With this hand clutch, it’s going to be a complete unknown tomorrow. In some ways it’s good, it mixes things up a little bit. It’s better to be in the front than the middle of it.”
The Toronto course is quite bumpy and very slippery in turn one, which could add to the excitement of Saturday’s race.
Bourdais, the four-time Champ Car Series champion, had the best qualification performance of the season and lines up second on the grid after a lap at 59.770 (105.705 mph) for Dragon Racing.
“It’s good to be here,” Bourdais said. “It’s been a long season so far. We just couldn’t quite get the handling of the car right. We made a lot of changes this morning. It’s the first weekend we’re working together on the street course. Looks like it’s working out pretty good.
“It’s not the first time that Toronto would be the turnaround of our season. It’s happened the last two years. Hopefully we can carry on some momentum. We definitely have a pretty fast car. I’m pretty excited for the two races this weekend.