Dario Franchitt fresh off his first podium finish of the year, carried that momentum into Toronto with a pole-winning run for the first of two races at Exhibition Place.
The four-time IndyCar Series champion was flawless in three rounds of Friday qualifying to coast to the top starting spot at Toronto, 1.75-mile street track where Franchitti has three career victories. It’s his fifth pole at Toronto and third on the season.
But his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team had to hustle all afternoon to repair damage to his No. 10 Honda incurred during a crashed in morning practice.
”I made it difficult this morning – I made a mistake in turn five there, took the right side off the car,” he said. ”The guys had to work and repair the car. I was able to keep finding a little bit every lap. Felt really good about that.”
Franchitti heads into this weekend’s races – IndyCar will run both Saturday and Sunday – ranked a disappointing 11th in the IndyCar standings. He’s not won a race since last year’s Indianapolis 500, and his third-place finish Sunday at Pocono was his first podium of the year.
He’s not written off his season, though.
”I’ve never looked at it that way. Whether I was first, or at one point this year I was last in the championship, so never say never,” Franchitti said. ”Until it’s mathematically impossible, you just keep fighting every week. We’ve put ourselves in a bit of a hole, but we’ll see if we can dig our way out.”
Sebastien Bourdais was second in his first appearance in the Fast Six this year. His previous best qualifying effort was seventh, and this is his first front row start since joining Dragon Racing before the 2012 season.
The 2004 winner at Toronto, Bourdais has had a miserable season and has yet to finish a race higher than 11th. He said Dragon recently discovered a way to address the understeer on his car and it showed Friday.
”We were definitely starting to wonder if we could turn the boat around a little bit,” he said. ”Definitely feels like this weekend we did. Finally I can feel like I’m doing something behind the wheel rather than going along for the ride.
”When you’ve been deep in the hole, finally you seem to be able to see some light, it feels really good. Pretty excited for the boys. It’s been a lot of work, just like everybody else, but when you don’t have the results, it’s twice as hard.”
Will Power barely advanced out of the first two rounds of qualifying and wound up third for Saturday’s 85-lap race.
Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was fourth and was followed by James Jakes, whose previous best start at Toronto was 23rd, was fifth and followed by last week’s winner Scott Dixon.
Toronto native James Hinchcliffe failed to advance out of the first round, and Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti didn’t make it out of the second round. E.J. Viso also failed to advance out of the first round, marking the first race through 11 events this year an Andretti driver didn’t make it to the Fast Six.
Both Hunter-Reay and Andretti were plagued by Takuma Sato bringing the second session to an early end by crashing into a tire barrier.
Sato, coincidentally, ran into Hunter-Reay on Sunday on pit road – ending both drivers’ race.
”It’s frustrating,” Hunter-Reay said. ”I’d like to thank Sato for knocking us out of the session again.”
Hunter-Reay is also driving with an injured hand suffered in the Pocono accident.
”It’s a concern, for sure. We don’t have any power steering at all in these cars, and when you get into an issue where you touch a wall or get in to it with another car, the wheel will whip around, and a lot of guys are hurting their thumbs, tearing ligaments and stuff like that,” he said. ”Certainly not a fun situation and not fun driving with it here at Toronto.”
Saturday will mark the debut of standing starts for IndyCar, which has been met with mixed reaction from the drivers. Many of the veterans haven’t done a standing start in 15 or more years, while some of the younger drivers have more experience in other series. IndyCar will not use standing starts for Sunday’s race.
”It’s been since 1993 that I have done a standing start. Right now, I’ll say I’m not a big fan,” said Kanaan. ”IndyCar for me, it’s always been about rolling starts. We’re talking about tradition. Maybe tomorrow I’ll end up at the end of the race saying I love it.”
Franchitti’s last standing start was British Formula 3 in 1994, and once at the Gold Coast 600 in Australia when he wrecked with teammate Scott Dixon. Power was also involved in the accident that began when Jacques Villeneuve spun.
”Will was there, because we all crashed into each other the first corner,” Franchitti said. ”Jacques 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 the 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.”