Long Beach Pole Belongs To Franchitti
LONG BEACH, Calif. — After stumbling out of the gate for the second season in a row, Honda roared back in Saturday’s Firestone “Fast Six” IZOD IndyCar Series qualifying for the 39th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. That sets up Sunday’s race as a fairly competitive battle between Honda and American-rival Chevrolet.
Dario Franchitti gave Honda its first pole of the season with a lap time of 1:07.2379 (lap speed of 105.369 miles per hour) around the 11-turn 1.968-mile street course for the 30th IndyCar pole of his career for the 2009 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner.
“I wish it was more,” Franchitti said. “That’s something that I’m very proud of. On days like today when you get another pole, it always feels good.
“None of us are going to go quick in a car that’s not topnotch. And the Target boys have worked so hard always. In every car I’ve driven for every different team, the guys work so hard. But digging ourselves out of that hole that we’ve been in with the bad performance at St. Pete, the slow car in qualifying in Barber, we turned it around for the race, yes. But to come here and the hard work that everybody did, it’s nice to pay them back.”
Franchitti was one of three Honda drivers that were in the Firestone “Fast Six.” Chevrolet drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport, winner of the 2010 Long Beach Grand Prix, and last year’s LBGP winner Will Power of Team Penske were second and third followed by two more Honda drivers.
Takuma Sato of Japan put A.J. Foyt Racing’s Honda fourth on the grid at 1:07.4472 (105.042 mph) followed by 2011 Long Beach winner Mike Conway’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda at 1:07.5994 (104.806 mph).
Helio Castroneves, the 2001 Long Beach champion, rounded out the Fast Six for Team Penske at 1:07.9698 (104.235 mph) for Team Penske.
Five of the six drivers in the Fast Six are former winners of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach with Sato the only driver yet to score a victory at the fast but narrow course that winds through the streets of Long Beach.
Honda has shown flashes of speed in the first two races this season but it’s been a Chevrolet driven by a driver from Andretti Autosport that took the checkered flag. James Hinchcliffe won the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Hunter-Reay drove to victory at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama two weeks ago but had to hold off the hard-charging Scott Dixon in a Honda at the end of the race.
Chevrolet had an edge in qualifications for the first two races this season before an evenly split representation between the two engine brands Saturday at Long Beach.
“Definitely, I think Honda made massive strides,” Franchitti said. “We were actually pretty bad there in St. Pete to put a lap together. But I think Honda worked unbelievably hard to close the gap to Chevy, and we’ve seen it at Barber, and I think we saw it again today. So it’s getting closer and closer. It’s been a lot of hard work.”
Sato has an extra dose of pride for the Japanese auto manufacturer because he is from Tokyo.
“As Dario said, St. Pete, I think we got everything together, and it was obviously a clearly, we need a bit of work on that,” Sato said. “And in Barber, we came back, and here we go. I think in Long Beach last year in terms of the performance was just working under the fuel consumption, et cetera, et cetera. I think this year will be very strong, and to be in a tight field and split with three manufactures in top six, I think that’s great racing.”
Hunter-Reay had the second fastest time at 1:07.2934 (105.282 mph) in an Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.
“At St. Pete it was a little more apparent that Chevy had the first step out of the gate but at Barber, I could tell that having run with some of the Hondas and showing how fast Dixon was there at the end, it seems to be a pretty close match at Barber and then obviously here as well,” said the defending IndyCar champion. “So, as expected, this is going to be how it is all year. We’re going to have some surprises here and there; I’m sure where one will outperform the other. But for the most part, as tight as it is now, it’s a little bit ridiculous at times, just trying to get the speed out of the car. Because you’re, like Dario said, caution to the wind. You have to absolutely risk everything to get that last little bit out of the car. It’s that close. It’s enjoyable though.
“It’s fun but stressful, for sure.”
Hunter-Reay was on the pole with less than one minute left in the Fast Six session before Franchitti knocked him off with a last-minute, last-lap effort at the checkered flag.
“It definitely stings a little bit here,” Hunter-Reay admitted. “I lost out on the pole here to Will a couple years ago by probably the same amount, half a tenth. When you come to the pit lane and you think about half a tenth, you can put that together anywhere in your head. So it’s pretty frustrating to miss it by that much.
“With that said, tomorrow’s the only day that counts, and it’s a good spot to start in. So we’re pretty happy with it. Just really happy with the team. Every time I head out on track, they give me a great car in that DHL/Sun Drop Chevy. So very pleased with that. We’re progressing, and hopefully tomorrow we’ll come out with a better race car and make it a great show for everybody.”
For Franchitti, it was the highlight of the season after getting off to a miserable start with two 25th-place finishes that has him last in the standings among the regular drivers heading into Sunday’s race.
“Yeah, that means a lot,” Franchitti said of the pole. “I remember qualifying next to T.K. (Tony Kanaan) about 50 years ago here. So, yeah, it’s nice to get a pole, particularly after the tough season we’ve had. Barber qualifying was really a low point. Barber race car was unfortunately a mechanical failure, but the Barber car in qualifying, we really struggled. So to turn it around today, I’ve got to take my hat off to everybody in the Target team for the hard work they did. I really got the most out of it there.
“That last lap just threw caution to the wind in a couple of places and I just got it. So it feels good, especially with a field as tight as it is. It was nice for Honda to get a pole here too.”
The four-time IndyCar champion is hoping this is the start of his climb back into contention for the 2013 championship.
“It’s always nice to do a good job in qualifying and qualify on the pole but like I said, we had such a good car in the race at Barber, we just didn’t get to show it,” Franchitti said. “But it’s always nice to be fast. There is no doubt. It always helps. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Hopefully, we have a good race car and we have a good race. But at least we’ve been quick today.
“And as I said in the race in Barber, St. Pete, we missed it quite a lot. So it’s good. We’re definitely going in the right direction and that feels good.”
|1. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.2379 (105.369)|
|2. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.2934 (105.282)|
|3. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.3987 (105.118)|
|4. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.4472 (105.042)|
|5. (17) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.5994 (104.806)|
|6. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.9698 (104.235)|
|7. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.4358 (105.060)|
|8. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.5891 (104.822)|
|9. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.6306 (104.757)|
|10. (5) EJ Viso, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.7209 (104.618)|
|11. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.7799 (104.527)|
|12. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.7902 (104.511)|
|13. (16) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.9185 (104.313)|
|14. (2) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy, 01:08.2001 (103.883)|
|15. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 01:07.9823 (104.215)|
|16. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 01:08.2579 (103.795)|
|17. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:07.9979 (104.191)|
|18. (22) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 01:08.2889 (103.747)|
|19. (55) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 01:08.1512 (103.957)|
|20. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 01:08.3173 (103.704)|
|21. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 01:08.4404 (103.518)|
|22. (98) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 01:08.6431 (103.212)|
|23. (18) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 01:09.9133 (101.337)|
|24. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 01:09.0318 (102.631)|
|25. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, No Time (No Speed)|
|26. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 01:09.4506 (102.012)|
|27. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:09.6706 (101.690)|