WEST ALLIS, Wis. – About the only downside to winning the 96th Indianapolis 500 for Dario Franchitti is that with all of the media obligations and personal appearances that come with winning the world’s biggest race is he would have to miss an open test at The Milwaukee Mile.
Franchitti feared that starting behind his fellow competitors in terms of finding the right setup with the new chassis on an old track would be a deficit.
So much for that handicap.
Franchitti proved that when it comes to passing grades, he doesn’t need to test by winning the pole Friday for Saturday’s Milwaukee IndyFest Presented by XYQ at The Milwaukee Mile. Franchitti put the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda on the top of the grid with a two-lap average of 168.737 miles per hour in Friday’s qualifications.
“Bet you guys didn’t expect to see me up here,” Franchitti said.
It was his 27th career IndyCar pole which ties him with Al Unser for eighth on the all-time IndyCar pole list. It was also the second year in a row he has won the pole at Milwaukee.
“We didn’t think we had a car that had the balance or was quick but we put our heads together and it worked,” Franchitti said. “Our qualifying setup gave us some direction and we went from there. That was cool. I didn’t expect anything like that. The car was hopping around there and I let it do what it wanted to do and it was good enough for the pole.”
Justin Wilson, last week’s race winner at Texas Motor Speedway, was the second fastest qualifier at 168.287 mph for two laps but he will be dropped to 12th on the starting grid for an unapproved engine change after his motor failed in a test at Iowa Speedway earlier this week.
“Qualifying was great and after our win last week we want to prove that it’s not a fluke,” Wilson said. “We are here and we are here to stay. It would have been a lot of fun starting next to Dario. I’m not writing off this race just yet. Hopefully we will be in a good position because our car turns well from the middle of the turn out. We’re going to look after our tires and I’m hoping we can get back to the front and be there at the end again.
“You only have to lead the last lap.”
Wilson believes the confidence that his Dale Coyne Racing team enjoyed from last Saturday night’s victory has only strengthened the overall program.
“The confidence has helped a lot,” he said. “I feel like we’ve made some progress in understanding this car and what it’s looking for, so we’ll keep chipping away at it and making the car better and better. I’m having a lot of fun. Qualifying is great, we’ll just keep our heads down, keep working on it. We were very pleased with last week. Obviously there was the whole question over the legality, but that’s why we’ve tried to come back and back it up with and we’ve proved that we’re here and we’re here to stay.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay moves up to second position after the Andretti Autosport driver was third in qualifications with a two-lap average of 167.911 miles per hour.
“We had a great run,” Hunter-Reay said. “The guys did a great job on the car – we were all over the sixth-gear limiter on our last lap or, I think, we would have been quick enough for pole. We couldn’t have predicted we would be that quick though, it’s the quickest we’ve been all weekend. It’s tough for the crew, especially the engineers, trying to pick which gears to go with. It’s like shooting with a blindfold on sometimes.”
Team Penske driver and IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Will Power was the fourth fastest driver with a two lap average of 167.361 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet but also changed his engine and will drop to 14th.
“Obviously we will be starting well back in the pack at 14th, but there is a bunch of other teams dealing with the same issue,” Power said. “We are going to try and make the most of it and have a good day tomorrow.”
That put former Formula One driver and IndyCar rookie Rubens Barrichello third on the grid after he was the fifth fastest qualifier at 166.899 mph.
“I am extremely happy with today’s qualifying,” Barrichello said. “As soon as we rolled the car out on track it felt good and it’s a great feeling to be able to go flat. I have been to Milwaukee a few times as a spectator and tested here a couple of weeks ago, but everything felt much better today. I have to thank my engineers and crew guys for giving me a good car and hope we can have a good race tomorrow.”
Other drivers that received 10-grid spot penalties include Honda drivers Takuma Sato, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Mike Conway and Chevrolet driver Ryan Briscoe.
That puts some top drivers back in the grid with Power 14th, Briscoe 19th and Dixon 21st, which should make for a wild race on Saturday.
But at the start they will all be chasing Franchitti.
“I am very pleased as much as I am surprised,” Franchitti said. “That’s quite a turnaround from practice. Practice is one thing, qualifying is another and then there is the race. For as warm as it is people are fighting the car and everyone wants the same line. I expect tomorrow is going to be tough, especially at the end of a full – stint on those Firestone tires. It’s going to be a long exciting day tomorrow and hopefully the Cottonelle car will be up front at the end of the afternoon. This is always an interesting track and we’ll see if we can get it done.”
Tires will play a key role in Saturday’s race because Firestone has brought a tire that wears out over the course of a fuel stint which means the racing could be similar to last Saturday night’s battle at Texas Motor Speedway.
“It seems the rear tires fall off and that makes it hard,” Graham Rahal said. “Traffic combined with the tires falling off and it is making it hard.”
That should make for a great race, according to at least one former winner in the field.
“You want people’s cars to go from good to bad and your car to go from bad to good,” said Tony Kanaan, who starts sixth. “I want the tires to fall off. I want them to make us drive the car. We asked Firestone for that and they delivered. You want the tire to degradation so you can drive the heck out of the car. This is the way it is supposed to be. It’s going to be a bit more difficult for everybody. You’ll have to save your tires and that will make exciting.”
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