Franchitti earns fourth pole of 2013 at Sonoma

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Dario Franchitti took home his fourth Verizon P1 Award Saturday at Sonoma, in qualifying for Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (4 p.m. EST, NBCSN).

Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon have maximized the pace of their Dallara DW12 Hondas in testing and practice at Sonoma and parlayed that into the fastest two laps on Saturday. Franchitti clocked in with a best time of 1:17.5271 and Dixon was just behind at 1:17.7196 to lead the field for Sunday’s 85-lap race.

“Obviously both Target cars have been fast all weekend, and in the test as well,” said Franchitti, whose pole is the 33rd of his illustrious career. “We made a lot of changes, but seemed to go back where we started. Q1 we just did the one lap on the reds and it was the quickest time, so they pulled me in and we felt that there was a lot of good still left in the tires. So we put those on for the second run and the car was good again, and I managed to make a couple of mistakes, actually, so I was surprised to be as close to the guys on the new reds.”

Come the Firestone Fast Six, Franchitti admitted he made even further mistakes but still had enough pace to compensate.

“We had the new reds on obviously for the Firestone Fast Six, which is just as well because I did a good job at the 10 and 11 corners and royally screwed up Turn 6 both laps, so luckily I had the advantage in the other corners to make it. So really happy, good to have 1-2 and all three of the Ganassi cars in the top six is pretty cool,” he said.

Besides the Target twins, Mid-Ohio winner Charlie Kimball continued his run of form in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk CGR entry, helping put all of Ganassi’s cars into the Fast Six for the second race running. He’ll line up sixth after his third Fast Six appearance of 2013, having made it in on all three permanent road courses. It’s a nice result for the team as it’s the first race since the passing of Chip’s father Floyd earlier this week.

The three non-Ganassi interlopers were the pair from Team Penske – Will Power and Helio Castroneves in third and fifth – and they sandwiched Ryan Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport entry in fourth. The qualifying result is the fourth consecutive year at Sonoma where five of the six Firestone Fast Six participants are from the Ganassi and Penske camps.

Justin Wilson, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais advanced from Q1 into Q2, but got no further. Wilson matches his season-best start (also achieved at Mid-Ohio), while former Newman/Haas teammate Rahal’s ahead of RLL Racing teammate James Jakes for only the third time since Brazil in May. It’s Rahal’s first top-10 start on a road or street course this year.

Also of note, JR Hildebrand (18th) outqualified Ryan Briscoe (22nd), with the Barracuda Racing Honda ahead of Hildebrand’s old Panther Racing Chevrolet. Other part-timers James Davison (21st) and Lucas Luhr (25th) were unable to make too much of an impression; Luhr was nine tenths in arrears of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing teammate Josef Newgarden.

GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Qualifying Times

SONOMA, Calif. – Qualifying Saturday for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.385 mile(s) Sonoma Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:17.5271 (110.748)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:17.7196 (110.474)
3. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:17.9735 (110.114)
4. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.1314 (109.892)
5. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.1766 (109.828)
6. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.2009 (109.794)
7. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.2138 (109.776)
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.3051 (109.648)
9. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.3135 (109.636)
10. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.3787 (109.545)
11. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.6230 (109.205)
12. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 01:26.7515 (98.972)
13. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.9164 (108.799)
14. (55) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.3141 (109.635)
15. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.9344 (108.774)
16. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.3318 (109.611)
17. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0094 (108.671)
18. (98) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.7114 (109.082)
19. (16) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.1563 (108.469)
20. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.8967 (108.826)
21. (18) James Davison, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.5285 (107.961)
22. (4) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:18.9743 (108.719)
23. (78) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.5298 (107.960)
24. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 01:19.2376 (108.358)
25. (97) Lucas Luhr, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.9805 (107.351)

NHRA: John Force-like motor explosions get contagious during Sunday’s Gatornationals

Photo and video courtesy NHRA
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John Force is rubbing off on others – but probably not the way they or he would like.

The 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion has had spectacular motor explosions in each of the first three races of the new NHRA season, including during Friday’s qualifying for this weekend’s Gatornationals.

During Sunday’s quarterfinals of eliminations, Force’s teammate (and son-in-law and president of John Force Racing) Robert Hight squared off with fellow Funny Car driver Matt Hagan.

As the duo closed in on the finish line, both cars experienced spectacular motor explosions of their own – virtually side-by-side and nearly at the same time.

Hight’s car was the first to explode, tossing its body high in the air. A split-second later, Hagan’s car exploded, also sending the body flying.

Check out the NHRA video:

Hight wound up losing the race.

Hagan, meanwhile, and his crack pit crew rolled their backup car off the hauler, put in a new motor and went on to race through the semifinals and into the finals, losing to race winner “Fast Jack” Beckman.

“We had a pretty great race day, to be honest,” Hagan said. “I’ve never been to the finals in Gainesville.

“We obviously had a huge blow up in the second round, then to watch these guys pull the other car back out and put it together in the amount of time they had, then turn a win light on against Capps (Don Schumacher Racing teammate Ron Capps in the semifinals), then to be able to go to a final, it was huge and it speaks for itself.”

As for Hight, here’s his take on what happened with the motor explosion:

“I couldn’t see (Hagan) over there and it wasn’t like it was hazing the tires or anything else. As it turns out it wasn’t spinning at all. It kicked two rods out when it blacked the bearings in the crank then it hit the valves and blew up.

“The thing gave me no indication at all before that. What really scared me was once I got it under control and I look over and see his body is off his car. I am thinking ‘Oh man, he got gathered up in me.’ Then I stood up and looked and his injector was sideways so I realized he had an explosion as well. We are just lucky we didn’t get into each other.”

As for the guy who has had so much trouble in the motor department, John Force, he lost in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations to daughter Courtney Force.

John Force planned on shutting the motor off on his car at around the 700-foot mark of the 1,000-foot dragstrip, not wanting to risk another motor explosion – even though it meant a likely loss to his daughter.

Now John Force and his entire four-car team, including Courtney Force, Robert Hight and daughter and Top Fuel driver Brittany Force, will be off for extensive testing to try and determine what’s been causing the motor explosions.

“We have to evaluate it and go test,” Force said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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