Several candidates could fill Franchitti’s seat at Fontana

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Several drivers could be in play for Dario Franchitti’s now vacant seat at Target Chip Ganassi Racing for the IndyCar 2013 season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Eight drivers have prior “big oval experience” in the Dallara DW12. Between 2012 and 2013, Alex Tagliani, Conor Daly, Ana Beatriz, Wade Cunningham, Buddy Lazier, Michel Jourdain Jr., Carlos Munoz and Rubens Barrichello have competed at either or both of Fontana and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Tagliani is potentially the strongest candidate among that group given his IndyCar career experience level, but the Canadian endured a tough first 13 races this year with the Barracuda Racing team.

He’s also developing a relationship with Ferrari in sports cars, having scored a pole position in his first drive for the R.Ferri/AIM Motorsport Racing with Ferrari F458 in the Rolex Series race at Kansas about a month and a half ago. Tagliani raced the last three events of the Rolex season in that GT class car.

Cunningham, interestingly, found himself in a last-minute race at Fontana situation a year ago. Mike Conway stepped out of A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 ABC Supply Honda citing a discomfort of racing on ovals, and Cunningham filled the void there.

Jourdain has prior starts at Fontana from his CART days, each year from 1997 through 2002, and Munoz won the Indy Lights race there last year. Neither is a realistic candidate this time around though; expect Munoz to focus solely on his Indy Lights commitments.

And three others who competed at this year’s Indianapolis 500 can very likely be ruled out: Ryan Briscoe, Townsend Bell and Katherine Legge. All three have had full-season commitments in the American Le Mans Series with Level 5 Motorsports, Team West/AJR/Boardwalk Ferrari and DeltaWing Racing Cars, respectively. The ALMS wraps its season – and series history – the same day as Fontana, with the 16th running of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.

This isn’t the first time Ganassi has needed to replace a champion at the Fontana season finale. Alex Zanardi had captured the 1997 CART title the race prior to Fontana, but was injured in a practice crash. Arie Luyendyk stepped in as a replacement and moved forward from last on the grid until getting collected in a crash with Arnd Meier.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III