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Briscoe tops qualifying, Franchitti starts first

14 April 2012

Ryan Briscoe and Will Power once again demonstrated the dominant form of the Chevrolet engines in qualifying, topping the Firestone Fast Six pole shootout qualifying round at Long Beach on Saturday afternoon - but knowing they'll start the race itself from much further back.

"It's huge ... To get the pole around this track is pretty satisfying," he said. "Now we have to come through the field and see if we can get a podium or a win. I just want to go out and drive the wheels off this thing.

"Last year we started 12th, and through strategy ended up leading a lot of laps in the race," he recalled. "So we're going to look at all of that. It's going to be tough - it's a really hard track to pass on, so we're going to have to do our best and see what we can do to get to the front."

Power - usually dominant on road courses - admitted that he had been beaten fair and square by Briscoe this weekend. "It was a battle in the Fast Six for sure, that was everything I had and we threw down a mega lap," he said. "Days like tomorrow will end up being really important for the championship, just trying to get as many points as possible and work hard at strategy."

While Briscoe pockets the $10,000 prize cheque and claims the championship bonus point for winning pole after setting a new course record time of 1:08.6089s on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn circuit, the ten-place grid penalties that all Chevrolet-powered cars will have to serve means that neither man will start the race itself in the top ten, but Briscoe was keen to look on the bright side.

Instead, the front row will consist of Dario Franchitti and Josef Newgarden, with Franchitti rebounding from what looked like being a poor form at Long Beach in the earlier practice sessions to end up as the only Honda-powered driver to make it into the final six.

"To make the Firestone Fast Six was good," agreed a relieved Franchitti. "We knew where we'd be starting regardless of what time we did, but we kind of wanted to earn it. We didn't quite have it in the car. So we'll go back tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Series rookie Newgarden narrowly missed out on joining him in the final six after putting his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car into a stunning seventh place in round 2, having previously topped his round 1 group ahead of such luminaries as Power, Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

"We wanted to qualify out front outright," said Newgarden, who admitted to being "bummed" at missing out on the Fast Six. "I think the coolest thing for us is each time we qualify, we qualify better."

Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud make up the second row of the grid, with Wilson feeling that he could have made it into the final six as well if not for a few errors in his round 2 flying lap.

"I made a little mistake in the last qualifying session and I think it cost me advancing to the Firestone Fast Six," he said. "With all the Chevrolet's ahead of us having to drop 10 spots on the grid tomorrow that now puts us P3 to start the race on Sunday, which is a huge advantage at a track like Long Beach.

"Sometimes things don't go your way and other times things are sometimes handed to you," he added. "Today it worked out in our favour. I am looking forward to the race tomorrow and think we have an excellent chance at a top three finish."

Pagenaud was ruing all the time that they had lost because of the stormy conditions on Friday. "Unfortunately, with the rain, we couldn't work on the set-up," he explained. "It's the same for everybody, but we couldn't catch up. The car is not in a happy place at the moment."

Meanwhile Scott Dixon expects to start from fifth place alongside Takuma Sato despite suffering a serious fire in his Ganassi's gearbox while out on track, and accordingly getting shown the black flag during round 2 of qualifying.

Last year's race winner Mike Conway will start from seventh, but was less than happy with the way that Saturday's qualifying had gone for the AJ Foyt Racing team. "I'm pretty disappointed because I really wanted to have a strong run here," he said. "The ABC car is not quite feeling the way I want yet. We just have to keep working at it."

Graham Rahal was surprisingly poor in his round 1 group and failed to progress, and explained afterwards that a technical failure was to blame. "Our car was really good but we had a hose clamp break in the turbo so we didn't develop any boost and that's why we were a little off pace. I don't think we're terrible but we have some work to do."

Tony Kanaan did squeak through from that group but then dropped out in round 2. "The crash this morning didn't help with trying to get track time," he admitted. "It was a very competitive qualifying session and we were just a little bit behind. I missed making the Firestone Fast Six by a tenth of a second."

As well as the 11 Chevrolet cars, three Lotus-powered cars also have new engines for Sunday's race. That means that Dreyer & Reinbold's Oriol Servia drops to 23rd place for the start of the race after being the best Lotus performer in qualifying, and Lotus Dragon Racing duo S├ębastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge are stuck on the back row of the starting grid with Bourdais seemingly disinclined to put in more than a token appearance in his round 1 group.

The penalties handed Alex Tagliani the best starting position of the Lotus field in 10th place, while Simona de Silvestro will start from 17th place despite a number of setbacks over the weekend.

"Not our day today! Broken water pump in the morning! And gear box broke in qualy!!!" she tweeted. "We've had some bad luck this weekend, but we're just going to have to put it behind us and do the best we can tomorrow."

Provisional starting grid

With so many penalties being enacted and the exact order in which the penalties are imposed not certain, the following starting grid order is highly provisional and will only be officially confirmed and announced following Sunday morning's warm-up session.

1. #10 Dario Franchitti Ganassi-Honda
2. #67 Josef Newgarden SFHR-Honda
3. #18 Justin Wilson Dale Coyne-Honda
4. #77 Simon Pagenaud Schmidt-Hamilton-Honda
5. #9 Scott Dixon Ganassi-Honda
6. #15 Takuma Sato RLL-Honda
7. #14 Mike Conway AJ Foyt-Honda
8. #38 Graham Rahal Ganassi-Honda
9. #83 Charlie Kimball Ganassi-Honda
10. #98 Alex Tagliani BHA-Lotus
11. #2 Ryan Briscoe Penske-Chevrolet *
12. #12 Will Power Penske-Chevrolet *
13. #28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti-Chevrolet *
14. #19 James Jakes Dale Coyne-Honda
15. #27 James Hinchcliffe Andretti-Chevrolet *
16. #5 EJ Viso KV Racing-Chevrolet *
17. #78 Simona de Silvestro HVM-Lotus
18. #3 Helio Castroneves Penske-Chevrolet *
19. #11 Tony Kanaan KV Racing-Chevrolet *
20. #4 JR Hildebrand Panther-Chevrolet *
21. #8 Rubens Barrichello KV Racing-Chevrolet *
22. #26 Marco Andretti Andretti-Chevrolet *
23. #22 Oriol Servia Dreyer & Reinbold-Lotus *
24. #20 Ed Carpenter ECR-Chevrolet *
25. #7 Sebastien Bourdais Dragon-Lotus *
26. #6 Katherine Legge Dragon-Lotus *

* = ten-place starting grid penalty for engine change

Full qualifying times and report available.


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