Franchitti Keeps Marching In Toronto

Dario Franchitti
Dario Franchitti will start from the pole for Sunday's Honda Indy Toronto. (Photo Coutesy IZOD IndyCar Series)

TORONTO – Dario Franchitti’s “Comeback Tour” for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship continued Saturday as the four-time series champion won the pole for Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

It was Franchitti’s fourth pole at Toronto, the 29th of his IndyCar career and third consecutive this season.

Franchitti, who entered the weekend eighth in points 70 behind leader Will Power of Team Penske, won the pole in the “Firestone Fast Six” with a lap around the 1.755-mile, 11-turn temporary street course at Canada’s Exhibition Place in 59.351 seconds for a lap speed of 106.451 mph.

More importantly, Franchitti gained one point for winning the pole which trims his deficit to 69 points with six races remaining.

“As much the satisfaction as anything is beating guys of this caliber,” said the driver of the No. 10 Dallara/Honda for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. “You look at the spread between getting past the first round, it’s so close. It doesn’t even take a mistake; it just takes leaving something on the table. The fact I was able to get that lap in at the end, I’m proud of that, proud of my Target guys and Honda, too. Done a great job.

“I was breathing hard after that one. It doesn’t get any easier, I’ll tell you that.”

Franchitti is attempting to turn around a recent streak of bad luck and poor finishes.

“If you can find a way for me to fix the suspension and having a failure, I don’t know,” Franchitti said. “All we can do is show up with a fast car and play with the hand we’re dealt in the race. That’s all we can do. I’m trying to think of any races we haven’t had some form of issue this year. Maybe Barber. Apart from that we’ve had some kind of thing going. You have to roll with the punches, get on with it. At least the Target cars are fast.”

Franchitti knocked championship leader Power off the top spot after the Team Penske driver had a fast time of 59.375 (106.407 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.

“I didn’t have anything (for Franchitti),” Power said. “I was very happy to be second. We kind of struggled to get through every round actually. We just made it in each time. Yeah, I just had one good lap. I just put everything together. That was as good as we could possibly do.

“We’re happy to start on the front row. Obviously we all know what this race is about — plenty of crashing and bashing. If we can survive that, we’ll be in good shape.”

It was in last year’s Honda Indy Toronto that Franchitti knocked Power into the tire barrier early in the race that led Power to call Franchitti a “dirty driver.” The rematch resumes Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern Time in a race televised on ABC.

But this year Power’s nemesis appears to be former Walker Racing teammate Simon Pagenaud. After the two were involved in contact during Friday’s practice session, the two got together once again in Saturday morning’s practice session that was contested on a wet track after early morning rain showers.

“I gave him the Australian ‘go away’ when he came to apologize,” Power said of Pagenaud. “But it’s all good. He blocked me down the back straight, kind of ran into me. It’s all good for me. I’m not out to get him or anything. I just want a good, clean race, do the best I can with what I got.”

Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing was third at 59.450 (106.273 mph) in a Dallara/Honda. It was a good day for the team after Wilson was involved in a crash on pit lane when his car was stuck in first gear and he ran into the back of Sebastien Bourdais’ car injury four crewmembers.

“It still lingers on,” Wilson admitted. “It’s never a nice experience. I went round this morning. I actually was texting backwards and forwards with Chuck (Homan, one of the injured Dragon Racing crewmembers) last night. He used to be at Dale Coyne Racing. He was back at his hotel, told me not to worry about it. I went around this morning, see the guys, make sure everybody was okay.

“It’s never a nice experience. We had to pick up and carry on with the job. The job was to be in the top six today. So I’m really pleased we made it and I’m also really happy Sebastien made it, as well. I think it’s fitting for the weekend.”

Bourdais qualified fourth for Dragon Racing at 59.472 (106.235 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.

“Talking about banging and bashing, I think Justin tried to take out half my team,” Bourdais said. “He did for a few hours. I’m glad all the guys are okay and we could put together one today. It’s been a heck of a season so far. To get to the Fast Six is always an achievement. I was really happy about that.

“The car has been brilliant since this morning. We put the options on, picked up massive understeer. ‘Holy Hell, we’re not going to make it.’ That was close. The groups, I think I made it by 3/100ths. We worked on it a little more, the car came to us. I had a great time. Thank Dragon Racing and the car was fast today.”

Scott Dixon of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing was fifth at 59.514 (106.160 mph) in a Dallara/Honda.

“It was definitely pretty hard work,” Dixon said. “Q1 wasn’t too bad. The car had quite a bit of understeer. Then we moved on to Q2. The car, we didn’t change much on the car but the balance got better. Our second lap we put in a pretty quick time and came in. Q3, the car was just really good. I think I messed up a little too much. Two laps I was up 2 or 3/10ths from Q2 and didn’t put it together. A bit frustrated, but at least the car is strong. It’s good to see Dario take the pole on the last lap, which is definitely handy for the points championship.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully we can get it together a bit better tomorrow.”

Canada’s Alex Tagliani of Quebec rounded out the “Fast Six” with a time of 59.5616 (106.705 mph). But he will start 16th on Sunday after an unapproved engine change on Friday got the team a 10-grid spot penalty for the race.

“I’m very, very pleased,” Tagliani said. “Obviously this is a Honda event. I think it was important to us to do a good showing. I mean, since we went back with the Honda power, obviously Detroit, I see familiar faces. Scotty and Will were in the Fast Six. It’s always really tough qualifying. Two-tenths of a second separate the Fast Six cars. It’s really a deep field.

“But our guys are working really hard. Slowly but surely we’re making improvements to the car. It’s always good to always consistently be in the front and fight with those guys. That’s what we need to be doing to give ourselves a chance to score some better results in the season.”

Local hero and hometown driver James Hinchcliffe had high hopes of driving to his first career IZOD IndyCar Series victory in this race but after already incurring a 10-grid spot penalty for an unapproved engine change along with a ninth-place qualification effort means he will start even deeper in the field on Sunday.

“Obviously yesterday didn’t go our way completely,” Hinchcliffe said. “The first session was a bit rough and then no running in the second session, so overnight we took a bit of a swing at it and definitely made the car a lot better for this morning. It’s a big credit to the Go Daddy guys and everyone at Andretti Autosport; I think we made all our cars a bit better. It’s tough out there – this is IndyCar – it’s a lot of good drivers and it’s only a tenth-of-a-second that sort of makes a difference. Our big thing is we were using up our tires quicker than other guys. I think the second lap was always my quickest and I didn’t have a chance to improve on that so it’s too bad. We have to take the penalty so we’ll start 19th and see what we can do from there.”