Dario Franchitti executed a pass on Marco Andretti in the third qualifying heat race to take pole position--his second in a row on a short oval--for tonight's Iowa Corn 250 on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway oval.
With three 30-lap heat races on the docket, the final go-round was the one that mattered for pole position, and the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion knows how to make moves when it matters.
Passing Andretti, the defending race winner here on the outside in the fourth turn on the eighth lap, Franchitti then motored away from his competition.
He had Helio Castroneves to deal with when the Brazilian, too, passed Andretti on the 16th lap to take second place. There just wasn't enough time for Castroneves to reel in Franchitti and he had to settle for second, while Andretti took third. Franchitti's margin of victory was a huge 1.467 seconds.
"We were struggling a little bit this morning," Franchitti acknowledged, "but we made the car much better in the second session of practice," where he was second overall, thus earning a spot in the third heat race for the fastest eight drivers.
After watching the first two heat races, Franchitti understood he could make a pass on the outside and that's exactly what he did to vanquish Andretti. "Physically, this is a tough track so it wail be an interesting race for us tomorrow night," he predicted.
Castroneves found the second practice "a bit more risky than actually the race because in the heat race you really are taking chances and not knowing what the other guys are doing. I was able to make a pass on Marco but then there wasn't enough time to catch Dario," he said. Although Andretti was driving for pole, "We were a little bit off on our gearing for the car," he added. "We can work on that for tomorrow--that's really the race that counts."
James Hinchcliffe earned fourth on the 25-car grid while teammates Ryan Briscoe and Will Power share the third row. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon, Franchitti's teammate were the final finishers in the final 30-lap heat race.
Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan won the other two heat races but both are subject to a 10-place penalty for unapproved engine changes, They each won their respective heat races, Rahal in a walkaway and Kanaan with outside passes on Rubens Barrichello and Alex Tagliani, ceding their spots on the fifth row to Honda drivers Alex Tagliani (who also led in the second race) and rookie Josef Newgarden, second to Rahal. Barrichello holds the 11th starting spot with JR HIldebrand, who made an excellent pass in the first heat race has 12th on the grid. Justin Wilson and Charlie Kimball are next followed by former Lotus drivers Oriol Servia and Katherine Legge, now part of the Chevy family.
Mike Conway and James Jakes are next with Kanaan and Rahal starting 19th and 20th. Ed Carpenter shares the 11th row with Simona de Silvestro's Lotus while a disappointed Takuma Sato is 23rd, engine-changer EJ Viso is 24th and Simon Pagenaud, who was last anyway--and changed his Honda engine - brings up the back of the grid.
Throughout the day it wasn't lost on anyone in the Indy car paddock that this day would have been Dan Wheldon's birthday--and that he won on this Iowa Speedway oval track four years ago today, donating his prize money to Iowa's Red Cross' flood relief fund.
The Iowa Corn 250 takes the green flags at 10PM EDT on NBC Sports. The cable channel has decided to offer the heat races beginning at 8PM--and will show the Firestone Indy Lights contest that occurs just before the Indy cars take to the banked Iowa oval once the IZOD IndyCar Series race is complete.