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Ganassi determined to make a race of it

23 May 2012

The biggest surprise of Pole Day qualifying at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday was just how poorly the four-car Ganassi squad performed.

With the top ten virtually locked out by Chevrolet runners from Penske, Andretti Autosport and KV Racing Technology, Ganassi couldn't even lay claim to being the fastest Honda on the grid. Instead, they were out-performed by the shoestring Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing squad and their Indy 500 rookie driver Josef Newgarden.

That left Ganassi's top car on the grid in the hands of Graham Rahal in 12th place: "Our goal's got to be the quickest of the Hondas, and I think we could have been close," he said at the weekend. "Newgarden obviously did a good time there, but I certainly think we could have beat that if we had run fifth [gear]."

Further back, Charlie Kimball and Scott Dixon will line up on the fifth row in 14th and 15th position. Current IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti could only manage 16th place at the head of the sixth row. It will be the first in five years that the Indy 500 has not included one of Ganassi's cars on the front row.

"It's not been a very good qualifying for us, it just shows that everybody can get it wrong sometimes," admitted Franchitti later. "As a unit, myself and the rest of the Target guys, we're just off. We're not where we need to be.

"It sucks. It absolutely sucks. Every member of the Target team is working so hard, we're just having a hard time figuring this one out," he added. "There's a bit of head-scratching going on. We've tried a number of different things."

Rubbing salt into the wound, Pole Day coincided with Franchitti's 39th birthday, but no one felt like celebrating: "I've had some great birthdays here, today's not one of them," Franchitti admitted.

Even more discouragingly, the team didn't even feel it was worth any of their drivers going out for a second qualifying run to try to post improved time. Doing so would have meant deleting their first run and risking an even lower grid position, and no one felt it was worth the gamble.

"Honda seems a bit challenged here, so we're working on that," sighed team owner Chip Ganassi. "We're a little disappointed."

His humour was not improved on the Sunday when all the teams got to use unused qualifying time as an opportunity for further practice in race trim - and Ganassi watched as Charlie Kimball ended up in the wall.

"It's really disappointing to go out today and crash the car," said Kimball. "Fortunately, the chassis is okay, and the guys have plenty of time and are well into fixing it already."

Now the challenge for Ganassi and his drivers is to regroup from the qualifying disappointment and see what they can achieve in the race itself. The practice sessions all last week suggested that in race trim and with the normal turbo boost settings (rather than the extra 50 horsepower all teams got for qualifying) the Ganassi cars may yet be on reasonably competitive footing with the Chevrolet cars ahead on the grid.

"I think in race trim we're okay," insisted Ganassi. "We're just a little challenged in qualifying."

"The car has been good all month, especially in race trim, agreed Kimball. "We still have a really good race car ... We'll go out and have a really good race next weekend."

As for Franchitti, there was no doubting just how much he wanted to overcome the disappointment of Pole Day and come out and win this year's Indy 500. If he were to succeed on Sunday then he'd join an elite club of only nine drivers to date to have won a hat-trick, of which only one - Helio Castroneves - is still active.

"Two is lovely; three would be just incredible," he said. "You have to want this one as much as you wanted the first one or else you're not going to get it. That's the plain and simple of it."

It would mean a lot to Franchitti to win this year's Indy 500 in particular and have the chance to pay homage to last year's champion, his great friend Dan Wheldon who tragically died in the accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the season climax on October. And another of Franchitti's and Wheldon's closest friends, Tony Kanaan, wouldn't be surprised if he managed it despite the lowly midfield starting position for the race.

"It doesn't matter what position the guy is in or how many points he has, he's always a threat to win," said Kanaan "He's one of the guys you have to beat here."


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