Franchitti takes superb Sears pole

Dario Franchitti beat the Penske duo to IndyCar Series pole position at Sears Point despite a mistake in the final part of qualifying

Franchitti takes superb Sears pole

The Ganassi driver went off the road on his first flying lap of the Fast Six segment that decides the first three rows of the grid, but then cleaned the dirt off his tyres and jumped to the head of the order two laps later.

"The car was good straight off the truck this morning," said Franchitti. "That was a minor off. I tried to go down a couple of gears and it wouldn't go down any, so I ended up going off a little bit, but it was okay."

Franchitti's 1m16.7987s effort denied Penske a one-two on the grid with Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, who had appeared to be in control of qualifying prior to Franchitti's late time.

"I'm a bit frustrated here right now, I just had a few braking issues and was struggling a bit for consistency," Briscoe admitted.

All three drivers were covered by just 0.0715 seconds - and all three look set to boost their title prospects as points leader Scott Dixon faces a difficult race day from 10th on the grid.

Dixon struggled for speed throughout qualifying, although he is optimistic that he can still salvage a good result.

"It's always tough and today we just really struggled so it's frustrating," said the reigning champion. "We struggled at the test as well. Braking seems to be my main issue today. We keep locking up, and once you've locked up you've gone past the corner.

"Sonoma's definitely one of the places where alternative strategies have a shot at stealing the win. We have to do something different to the leaders and hope it will all go our way."

It was a highly encouraging afternoon for Andretti Green, which had recently struggled in road course qualifying, as all five members of its temporarily expanded team reached the second round of qualifying.

Marco Andretti was the best of the quintet in fourth place, just ahead of Hideki Mutoh, who took his best ever road course qualifying position.

Tony Kanaan was set for a Fast Six spot until being pushed out by Mutoh right at the end of part two, while Franck Montagny continued to show his potential by qualifying eighth for his series debut.

Newman/Haas/Lanigan's Graham Rahal maintained his strong qualifying form to split the AGR group in sixth, although his team-mate Oriol Servia was left ruing the fuel pump failure that sidelined him after just four practice laps as he lined up a lowly 17th.

Mike Conway had been very quick in testing and practice, but was not able to reach the top six session and will start ninth for Dreyer & Reinbold.

Watkins Glen winner Justin Wilson had a disastrous session, with a suspension problem in round one of qualifying leaving him only 19th on the grid.

"That's disappointing," he said. "I'm not sure what happened. I never even left the track. What can you do? The car was bottoming a lot right from the start and I thought it was strange."

The initial 24-car field is now down to 22 entrants as both Will Power (Penske) and Nelson Philippe (Conquest) have been sidelined by the practice accident that left them with broken vertebrae and a fractured leg respectively.

Pos Driver Team Time 1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m16.7987s 2. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m16.8485s 3. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m16.8702s 4. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 1m17.0524s 5. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 1m17.2055s 6. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m17.3885s 7. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 1m16.9900s 8. Franck Montagny Andretti Green 1m17.0840s 9. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 1m17.0895s 10. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m17.2247s 11. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 1m17.6145s 12. Dan Wheldon Panther 1m17.6782s 13. EJ Viso HVM 1m17.9180s 14. Mario Moraes KV 1m17.4730s 15. Robert Doornbos HVM 1m18.1095s 16. Ryan Hunter-Reay Foyt 1m17.6401s 17. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas/Lanigan 1m18.1409s 18. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 1m17.6552s 19. Justin Wilson Coyne 1m18.3353s 20. Richard Antinucci 3G 1m17.7500s 21. Ed Carpenter Vision 1m18.2413s 22. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold 1m23.6185s 
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