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Franchitti To Have Head Start In Race No. 250

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 21 2013

Dario Franchitti will hit the streets of Long Beach running out front today. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Dario Franchitti will start his landmark 250th Indy-car race in style Sunday after claiming the Verizon P1 Award for the 39th annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

A four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion, Franchitti posted a quick lap of 1 minute, 07.2379-seconds at 105.369 mph during the waning seconds of the 10-minute Firestone Fast Six Saturday on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit. It was the Scotsman’s first pole since the Streets of Toronto last July and 30th of his career, tying him with Sebastien Bourdais for seventh all-time.

“It’s great to start on the pole anytime, especially for your 250th start,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. “The car felt really, really good (Saturday) morning and in all three segments of qualifying. I was able to attack, and that’s something I haven’t had for a while.”

Franchitti, who won on the famed Southern California layout in 2009, finished 25th in the series’ most recent event on the Barber Motorsports Park road-course in Birmingham, Ala., retiring with a mechanical problem after 42 of 90 laps.

Franchitti will share the front row with Barber winner and reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was 0.0555-seconds behind at 105.282 mph in the No. 1 DHL Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Hunter-Reay’s effort matched his best start at Long Beach from 2010 and 2011. “The guys gave me a great car, as always,” Hunter-Reay said. “This team has been doing a great job. But, this is unfortunate. To lose it by half-a-tenth is worse than losing it by four-tenths. It was close, but today really doesn’t count. We’ll go get them (Sunday). We’re starting from the front row, so things are looking up for us.”

Team Penske’s Will Power, last year’s Long Beach winner, will start third in the No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevy after a lap at 105.118 mph. Takuma Sato (105.042 mph) starts fourth in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda. It’s the first time since 2008 that Power has not started on the front row at Long Beach. Nevertheless, Power went on to win that race.

“I just took that one lap and backed-off,” Power said. “(Penske president) Tim Cindric said, ‘You’re barely going to make it,’ and I thought he meant on fuel but he meant the checkered. Literally, barely missed it. I much rather start third than second. The starts in these races you never know what’s going to happen. You’re better off on the inside. It was good to get to the Fast Six just because of how close everything is at the moment.”

Englishman Mike Conway, the 2011 Long Beach winner making his belated first start of the season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, qualified the No. 17 blu eCigs Dallara/Honda fifth at 104.806 mph. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves will roll-off sixth at 104.235 mph in the No. 3 Auto Club Dallara/Chevy.

Franchitti’s crew strapped on a set of used Firestone Firehawk alternate (red-sidewall) tires for his final qualifying bid, and he actually lapped the circuit three-hundredths of a second faster than when the set was new during the prior qualifying segment.

Franchitti is seeking to break a tie with Bourdais and Paul Tracy with his 32nd victory. Franchitti’s most recent win was at the 2012 Indianapolis 500, nearly one year ago.

“We had a very fast race car in Barber, but man, we really made a mess of qualifying,” said Franchitti, who earned his first Long Beach pole. Franchitti actually started from P1 at Long Beach last year after pole-winner Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske was hit with a 10-spot engine change grid penalty.

“It was nice to go out there and really have a great car and get everything out of it,” Franchitti said. ”So thank you to everyone on the Target team because it’s been a tough start to the season, especially for the No. 10, but really with everybody.”

Franchitti has logged 31 victories – including three in the Indianapolis 500 – 29 runnerup finishes and 112 top-fives during an Indy-car career that began on March 2, 1997 in a Championship Auto Racing Teams event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He started 13th and finished 25th there in a Hogan Racing entry. Franchitti, who will turn 40 on May 19, refuses to throttle-down.

“You can always do better, can’t you?” said Franchitti, a disappointing seventh in final points last season. “I want to leave nothing on the table and give every bit of feedback that I can. The guys will take care of their end of things and I’ll take care of mine. That requires a lot of focus, and sometimes I’m not the funnest person to be around when that happens, but that’s what it takes.”

Meanwhile, Carlos Munoz earned his third consecutive Sunoco Pole Award with a last-lap, track-record lap of 1:12.9374-seconds for Sunday’s Long Beach 100. Munoz supplanted Jack Hawksworth, who seconds before jumped to P1 with a lap of 1:13.3324. Zach Veach qualified third, his best series starting position. The top-six qualifiers were separated by less than 0.9-seconds.

The front-row starters are the same for the third race in a row, and each driver has posted one victory. Getting to the front was a victory of sorts for Hawksworth, the Firestone Indy Lights point-leader who crashed during practice less than 24 hours earlier.

“I pushed like it was my last lap in the race car,” said Munoz, driver of the No. 26 Dialy-Ser/Andretti Autosport entry. “I didn’t do 100 percent, I did 200 percent. I pushed a lot; I was near the wall a lot of times. The car was awesome. We improved it over the weekend and I think I’ll have a really good car for the race.” Munoz previously won the Sunoco Pole Award on the Streets of Edmonton in 2012 and Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Barber Motorsports Park earlier this season.

Sunday’s IndyCar race will be televised live at 4 p.m. (EDT) by NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211 and www.indycar.com. Sunday’s Firestone Indy Lights race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. (EDT) as a prelude to the main event.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, April 21 2013
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