Franchitti shows way in Indy Toronto qualifying

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:12 PM ET

There were more than a few IndyCar drivers shaking their heads yesterday at how fast the weather can change along the Exhibition Place temporary street course on the shores of Lake Ontario.

None more than pole sitter for today's Honda Indy Toronto, Dario Franchitti, who was convinced that a morning thunder and lightning storm would wash out qualifying completely for the Indy Racing League teams.

In fact, many teams already were making plans to re-vamp setups to run qualifying laps this morning.

But just as quick as the dark clouds moved east and the sun came out along the lake race engineers were running to their laptops to figure out new shock and damper configurations for the 650-horsepower Honda Dallaras.

Franchitti and the No. 10 Ganassi Racing team just did it faster and obviously better.

"That's Toronto," the 36-year-old Scot said.

He was so ready -- when the sun finally did come out -- that on each of the three stages of the IRL qualifying session Franchitti notched his fastest lap early.

"The (pole) lap I did early in the fast six, I came in (to the pits) right after," he said after putting down a top time of one minute, 1:024 seconds. "I said to the team: 'That's it, that was a hell of a lap. That's as good a lap as we were going to get.' "

Franchitti, of course, was right at home on the 2.77-kilometre, 11-turn track. He not only won here in 1999 but started on the pole in 1997 and again the next year.

"I was trying to remember what I did right back in '96 and '97," he said. "But it only took me two laps really to figure how the fast way around here."

Toronto, more than any other street or road course on the IRL calendar, presents a unique set of challenges for drivers and none more so than the change in racing surfaces -- from pavement to concrete -- in several key corners.

It is just that kind of challenge that also makes it more enjoyable for drivers at the top of their game -- and Franchitti is certainly there right now.

"I know some drivers complain about (Toronto) being bumpy," he said. "But that is what makes it tough and that is what makes it fun.

"There isn't another track we run on that offers the kind of demands on a driver's skills than you get here."

The IRL went to a three-stage qualifying this season to both make it more exciting and to give the top drivers more room at the end of each session that sees six drivers eliminated.

Yesterday, it played perfectly into Franchitti's hands.

"It was very difficult to find a clear track especially in the early sessions because of all the traffic," he said. "But as the sessions wore on it got to be less of a problem. In the fast six for example it was absolutely no problem at all."

POWER ON FRONT ROW

Australia's Will Power -- another former winner in Toronto -- will start on the outside of the front row beside Franchitti in the No. 12 Penske Racing Dallara after he lapped the circuit in 1:01:285.

American Graham Rahal -- whose father Bobby Rahal won the first Toronto Indy in 1986 -- will start third in the No. 02 Newman/Haas/Lanigan McDonald's Dallara when he posted a lap of 1:01:330.

The top Canadian in today's will be Montreal's Alex Tagliani in the No. 34 Conquest Racing machine. He'll start a season-high fifth with a time of 1:01:698.

Toronto's Paul Tracy will start 15th in the KV Racing Technology Dallara.

DEAN.MCNULTY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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