"That was a nice surprise there," said Dario Franchitti after claiming pole position for the Iowa Corn Indy 250, after managing to pass Marco Andretti in the third and final qualifying heat at Iowa Speedway on Friday evening.
It is the second week running that Franchitti will start from pole position, afetr he also claimed the top spot in more traditional speed trial qualifying last weekend at Milwaukee, only to crash out with suspension failure late in the race.
Marco went on to lose a further spot to Helio Castroneves, which means that it's the Penske driver who will start alongside Franchitti on the front row while Andretti will start alongside his team mate James Hinchliffe on the second row, after Hinch had the fiercest battle of the night to hold off Ryan Briscoe for fourth place - which culminated in contact between the two.
Graham Rahal beat Josef Newgarden in heat 1 and Tony Kanaan bested Alex Tagliani in heat 2, but both Rahal and Tagliani will serve ten-place starting grid penalties for engine penalties leaving Tagliani starting from ninth and Newgarden from tenth instead.Heat 1
In the first heat, Graham Rahal led the field of eight to the green flag, just holding off a bold and risky move from Josef Newgarden into the first corner that nearly ended in disaster. He backed off and managed to keep his second position from EJ Viso.
After that, the heat settled into a single file affair maintaining the same running order as they started. Rahal pulled off into a big 3s lead despite running what looked to be an unusual line around the 0.875-mile asphalt tri-oval. Ed Carpenter and Takuma Sato fell off the pace from the start and never featured in the battle for the higher grid positions.
Ultimately the drivers all seemed content to put safety first, with only JR Hildebrand pressing EJ Viso successfully for third position in the closing laps. Otherwise, the remaining drivers settled for the positions in which they'd started rather than risk damaging their race cars, and the race concluded with no incidents and no further changes in positions after 9:54s.Heat 2
Rubens Barrichello started the second heat from pole position with Alex Tagliani alongside him, while Tony Kanaan got the jump on Justin Wilson in a heat already notably more combative and closely-packed than the first outing half an hour previously.
Five laps in and Barrichello lost the lead to Tagliani, and also got passed on the high-side by Tony Kanaan next time around; Barrichello was able to maintain third and stayed in front of Wilson. As the race entered its final third, Kanaan lined up a successful pass on Tagliani for the lead and duly took the position, pulling out a comfortable lead by the time the chequered flag came out. Tagliani had little incentive to fight back, given that Kanaan would have a ten-place starting grid penalty to serve.
In a heat of two halves, the top four had quickly pulled away from Charlie Kimball, Katherine Legge, Simon Pagenaud and James Jakes who all had their own private battle - well ahead of HVM's Simona de Silvestro who was as far off the pace with the Lotus engine as ever.
Jakes pulled off a nice late-heat move on Pagenaud, who then slowed in the final laps and was even passed by de Silvestro in the last seconds as both cars were lapped by the leaders. Pagenaud will start from dead last on the grid, as he is also another driver added to the list of those serving an engine change, after the Schmidt-Hamilton team opted to take the hit now rather than at Toronto where the French sportscar star is hoping for a strong road course outing.Heat 3
The third and final heat was also the top eight pole shootout, with Marco Andretti leading Dario Franchitti to the green flag at the second attempt (after a first was waved off) at the start of the 30 laps.
Andretti blasted away at the front with Franchitti already struggling to keep up, while further back another Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe was also immediately on the pace and up to fourth past the two Penske cars of Ryan Briscoe and Will Power.
Franchitti seemed to smoothly pick up his pace as the cars settled into the groove, and soon caught and went side-by-side with Andretti on lap 8 - and completed the pass for the lead, leaving Marco fading back into the clutches of Helio Castroneves, who eventually took second spot off him at the midway point of the 30-lap heat.
Hinchcliffe's initial devastating pace had also quickly waned, leaving him battling side-by-side for fourth position with Ryan Briscoe coming right back onto him in a fight that lasted almost the entire rest of the heat. Hinchcliffe had just enough of an edge with track position to fend off Briscoe's multiple attempts at passing.
Will Power shadowed this battle for fourth place but seemed content to wait in case Hinchcliffe and Briscoe took each other out - which came close to happening on several occasions, culminating in Briscoe tapping the back of the GoDaddy.com car on the penultimate lap. Hinchcliffe subsequently went over to Briscoe to make peace over the incident.
Further back, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon seemed to realise that they were off the pace of the group and settled for a safe run at the back.
Full heat results and provisional starting grid