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)

Rossi charges to fifth after starting 18th at Barber

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Alexander Rossi has had a black cloud hanging over his head in each of the first two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner suffered an ill-timed caution at St. Petersburg that hurt his team’s strategy and then dropped out at Long Beach after an engine failure when he was running in the top three.

That misfortune continued on into Saturday, as he and the Andretti-Herta Autosport team couldn’t find the speed in qualifying, leaving him 18th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, everything turned up roses come race time and Rossi had arguably the drive of the day. Rossi was immediately on the charge and used a combination of strategy and speed to run seventh after the opening sequence of pit stops. He hung around the top five the rest of the day, eventually moving up to fifth after Charlie Kimball and Will Power made late-race pit stops.

All told, it was a remarkable run for him.

“It’s good considering we started 18th,” Rossi told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “We were pretty disappointed yesterday. We were on the verge of desperation. We had to diagnose what happened Saturday.”

The result vaulted Rossi all the way up to 10th in the championship standings, one point ahead of Tony Kanaan. He trails points leader Sebastien Bourdais by 57 markers heading into the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Bourdais hangs on to points lead after Barber

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Sebastien Bourdais’ drive to eighth is not quite the headline-maker to match his win at St. Petersburg or his second at Long Beach, but it was still a championship-caliber drive on a weekend where he and Dale Coyne Racing didn’t quite have the pace they had in the opening two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Bourdais advanced out of his Round 1 qualifying group, but went no further after turning the 12th fastest time in Round 2, leaving him 12th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, he managed to weather the storm and keep his nose clean, taking home an unspectacular but respectable eighth.

“Yeah not quite sure what did what. Maybe the conditions got us more in the operation of the tires,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee when asked about his struggles during the weekend.

Bourdais also added that might have been able to pass Tony Kanaan for seventh in the final laps, but he couldn’t quite do enough to make a run at him.

“I really thought I had (Kanaan) there. He used the pushed to pass. I didn’t forget! I really thought I had him. He used the push to pass on the way back. Shame on me. It was a good fight. Not the greatest day but top 10 is good for the guys and the Sonny’s BBQ car.”

Bourdais leads Scott Dixon by six points and Josef Newgarden by seven. Simon Pagenaud sits 10 markers behind while James Hinchcliffe is 15 back after three races.

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A full day of Fernando: Alonso takes Barber by storm (VIDEO)

Brown and Alonso. Photo: IndyCar
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Fernando Alonso was a busy man today at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as he prepares for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and made the rounds of media and promotion in doing so as part of his joint entry into the race thanks to McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion arrived on pit lane for Sunday’s morning warmup and set up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda pit, where he’d interact with Michael Andretti and the rest of the team.

Alonso had a quick sit-in in Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Honda:

Alonso then made it to the media center for a formal press conference with Andretti, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company. Alonso was high on life through most of the press conference and had a few playful jabs at some of his competitors.

Before the race, Alonso signed some autographs for fans, who were pleased he was on site.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

From there, it was a chance to head to the grid and speak with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.

Alonso’s day wasn’t done, as he visited both the NBCSN booth and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth for further interviews. A portion of the NBCSN interview is below.

Alonso will now head to Indianapolis with the team this week for a seat fit and further preparation for his May 3 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first run in the car. He’ll then be off to Sochi, Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which you can see on NBCSN (times here).

Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.