SONOMA — The Target cars now have a target on their backs.
The Target Chip Ganassi cars of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon swept the top two qualifying spots Saturday for Sunday’s IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.
Franchitti was quickest in all three qualifying sessions, holding off Dixon in the Firestone Fast Six with a lap of 1 minute, 17.5271 seconds with an average speed of 110.748 mph.
Dixon’s fastest lap in the final qualifying session around the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road circuit came in at 1:17.7196 at 110.474 mph.
This was Franchitti’s third pole position in the Wine Country as he also started first in 2007 and 2009.
“Obviously, we’ve both been fast all weekend, and in the test (Wednesday) as well,” Franchitti said. “We made a lot of changes but we always seem to go back where we started. . . . I managed to make a couple of mistakes so I was surprised (to still be faster than the other drivers). I did a real good job in the Turn 10 and 11 corners and royally screwed up in Turn 6 both laps, so luckily I had the advantage in the other corners to make it.
“This is a good 1-2 and I’m happy to have all three Ganassi cars in the top six.”
Charlie Kimball, the other Ganassi driver, was sixth, while Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves rounded out the top five.
Dixon was also pleased to see his teammates starting up at or near the front.
“It’s been a decent week (so far),” Dixon said. “I think the cars have generally had good speed. We didn’t get great laps together as far as the ultimate times. Dario, obviously, made a strong choice to save the set of reds (tires) in Q2 and then go through Q3 with a new set.
“We were to set ourselves up to be second and that’s where we ended up. We’re pretty happy with that. This is usually a strong Penske track so it’s nice to get on the front row.”
Power, a Penske driver who’s never qualified out of the Top 3 in Sonoma, was concerned, as many driver were, with the change in the wind.
“The wind does totally change the track,” Power said. “Our car was quite tough to drive on blacks (tires) and the reds were reasonable. I would have liked to get a leg up on everyone here but we’ll see what we can do (Sunday).”
Castroneves, the other Team Penske driver, also spoke of the wind change over the course of the day.
“I struggled to pass the first group (in qualifying),” Castroneves said. “We positioned ourself well for Q2, and then in Q3 we treated it like another session as a test.
“It didn’t pay off to hold off the Ganassi guys, but we’re right there, right there in the area we need to be (starting near the front). Now we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Even after earning the fourth qualifying spot, defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay wasn’t too pleased with his qualifying, especially the wind.
“It was a pretty disappointing day for us,” Hunter-Reay said. “I think we had a pretty good pace leading up to it, then the wind shifted. It was the same for everybody, but it just made for really difficult conditions and we didn’t capitalize on it.
“It was tough to get lap times out of the cars – it was for everybody. But the Ganassi cars have been one step above.”
Ryan Briscoe, the defending champion in Sonoma, qualified 22nd.
“We definitely lacked the speed, which is a shame because we’ve been feeling really confident,” he said. “But since (Friday) afternoon into (Saturday), we’ve lost the pace a little bit, so we need to look at where we need to turn it back around and make ourselves competitive again.”
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.