Ganassi Drivers Hope Power Is Circling The Drain

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 27 2010

Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti love them ovals these days. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Back during the days when American open-wheel racing was going through its civil war, then-CART driver Dario Franchitti didn’t hide his dislike for driving really fast cars right next to concrete walls on oval race tracks.

Having raced on nothing but road courses during his career, that dislike of ovals was so serious that the driver from Scotland actually considered shipping out rather than driving when his team, Andretti Green Racing, made the decision to move over to the oval-dominated IndyCar Series.

But over the last eight years, Franchitti has not only come to accept racing on ovals, he has come to enjoy them. Most significantly, he has learned to  win races on them.

And that’s good, because if he is to have any chance of catching and passing Will Power in the IZOD IndyCar point standings, he will have to do it ovals as the season ends with four straight races on ovals – the first of which is the Peak Antifreeze  and Motor Oil 300 this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Love them ovals, Franchitti, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 who trails Power by 59 points, said this week.

“Well, it’s a fairly large deficit,” the Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver who qualified second fastest at Chicagoland on Friday, said. “But it’s four tracks we’ve run well on. We’ve won at Chicago. Dixie (teammate Scott Dixon) won in Japan. We both won at Homestead. Won at Kentucky as a team. I haven’t won at Kentucky personally. There’s places we can do very well at.”

Power, who qualified third fastest Friday, has won five times this season. But all of those victories have come on road courses.

That’s good news for Franchitti, but not so good that he is working on his championship acceptance speech.

“I don’t underestimate the challenge at all,” he said. “Will is going to be quite strong. People are writing him off because of his lack of experience on the ovals, but he’ll be right up there. We have to do a better job. We’ll be pushing 100 percent.”

Nor is Team Penske’s Power in a mood to roll over just because the series has entered a home stretch which features zero road races.

“I actually had my first top-five oval finish at this track back in 2008, so I am feeling really good going into this event,” Power, who is coming off a victory in last weekend’s race at Infineon Raceway, said. “It’s nice to be racing on a track that I have some experience on as we transition to the ovals and into the final stretch of the championship. The Verizon car has been strong all year long. I am going to be aggressive this weekend. We have to be.”

Third in points is Dixon. He is 95 points behind Power but is mathematically still in contention for the championship.

And Dixon, too, likes the fact that oval racing is back.

“I think it’s exciting for our team,” Dixon said. “Both Dario and myself have done extremely well on the one-and-a-half-mile circuits, especially the ones we have left. Kentucky was a bit of a downer last year. I think it was just ’cause we didn’t take tires at the end.

“I think our cars have always done well. I think I have five second-place finishes at Chicago. Hopefully we can turn that into a win for a change.”

Dixon said his second team duty – after trying to get victories – is to do what he can to help Franchitti.

“Try and just keep Will back in the pack and take some points off him,” Dixon said. “Obviously my job is going to be to try to help Dario and myself close the gap as much as possible, apply as much pressure as possible, and hopefully put them under enough that they make mistakes.

“I think that’s really the only options left for us. We’re confident going in. We have to work together as a team, obviously finish 1-2 to try to overcome the points deficit at the moment.”

It’s not just the Ganassi teams who are looking forward to a return to ovals.

The return to ovals means the return to racing for Sarah Fisher of Sarah Fisher Racing.

“We aren’t budgeted to test more than a few times this year so having that knowledge from prior races at this track should be a bonus,” Fisher said. “Some time has passed since I was last in the car at Iowa, but not one day goes by where I haven’t done one thing to prepare for this opportunity. Even knowing that we will be on a roll with the series as they end on ovals, is encouraging to getting in a rhythm.”

Also back at Chicagoland will be Ana Beatriz, who will be driving a car for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Beatriz will make her third start of the season, driving the No. 24 Dad’s Root Beer car.

Beatriz, a two-time oval-race winner in Firestone Indy Lights, competed in a Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car for the season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300 in her native Brazil (advanced nine positions to finish 13th) and in the Indianapolis 500 (finished 21st).

“Ana really showed us her talent when we ran her back in March and May,” team co-owner Dennis Reinbold said. “We look forward to running her as she competes at Chicagoland Speedway.

In two Firestone Indy Lights races at the 1.5-mile racetrack, Beatriz was runner-up in 2008.

Ed Carpenter will also be back on the track at the Chicagoland 1.5-mile oval. Carpenter, who was a Fast Nine qualifier at Indy in May, is driving for Panther Racing this weekend in a car sponsor by Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka.

“I’m excited to be going back to Chicago and picking up where we left off at the Indianapolis 500,” Carpenter, who is a bit of an oval-course specialist, said. “Obviously we didn’t get the result we were looking with a 17th place finish in May but we had a strong showing the rest of that month and had a really fast car. Coming off that effort and the test we did a few weeks ago at Kentucky has us really confident about where we are with the car for Chicago. It was a great race there last year especially for the fans and I expect it’ll be a great race again this year especially with 29 car entries.”

Perhaps not as excited about the return to ovals is Graham Rahal of the Newman/Haas Racing team.

Rahal has not competed on an oval since 2009.

“I think it will be an interesting race,” said Rahal.  “There are more than a couple of us that haven’t been on one of these for a while.  I haven’t been on a 1.5 mile oval since the last race of the year last year at Homestead.  No matter how much experience you have, it takes a little running to get into a rhythm.  It will be interesting to see if everybody runs in a pack early on.  Last year, right from the get-go, everyone ran in a pack.”

New rule

A new oval-track qualifying procedure debuted at Chicago on Friday.

According to the new qualifying rule, “A qualifications attempt is the total of two consecutively timed laps.”

Previously, the average speed of four timed laps was used to set the starting grid.

The average speed of two consecutively timed laps, following two warm-up laps on the 1.5-mile racetracks, will be implemented  at Chicagoland in the run for the PEAK Performance Pole Award.

A season-high 29 cars (outside of the traditional 33 for the Indianapolis 500) are entered for the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 on Aug. 27-28 at Chicagoland Speedway. Races at Kentucky Speedway (Sept. 4), Twin Ring Motegi (Sept. 19) and Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 2) follow. An average of 26 cars was entered in the three oval events this season outside of the Indy 500.

“The number of cars we’re having at our events – 27 cars at Mid-Ohio and 29 at Chicagoland and maybe Homestead-Miami – and the length of time it takes to qualify these cars when you’re conducting two-day shows, it becomes a non-productive use of track time,” Indy Racing League president of competition and racing operations Brian Barnhart said.

“By going to an average of two timed laps instead of four, it reduces our qualifying time by 33 percent. We’re rather make sure the drivers are getting ample track time in practice conditions with all cars on track at the same time to be better-prepared for the race.”

The four-lap qualifying procedure was instituted for the 2008 season.

Results of qualifying Friday for the PEAK Antifreeze & Motor Oil Indy 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.52-mile Chicagoland Speedway, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, and speed:

1. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 216.346

2. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 215.593

3. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 215.521

4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 215.475

5. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 215.321

6. (02) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 215.314

7. (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 215.099

8. (06) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 215.055

9. (37) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 214.979

10. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 214.945

11. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 214.831

12. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 214.750

13. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 214.632

14. (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 214.468

15. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 214.269

16. (8) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 214.210

17. (36) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 214.093

18. (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 213.975

19. (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 213.910

20. (34) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 213.682

21. (32) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 213.458

22. (24) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 213.429

23. (22) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 213.385

24. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 213.106

25. (67) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 213.095

26. (18) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 212.777

27. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 212.660

28. (21) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 212.484

29. (66) Jay Howard, Dallara-Honda, 212.097

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, August 27 2010
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