Chicago Qualifying Report
Ryan Briscoe did exactly what he needed to do last week at Sonoma. He stationed himself behind Dario Franchitti’s gearbox and collected the points for second place, while Scott Dixon ran into trouble and finished thirteenth. Briscoe left Sonoma with the points lead, while Dixon had fallen from first to third. Now, the competition is Franchitti who was four points back at the beginning of the weekend. Now make that FIVE points back. First Helio Castroneves supplanted Franchitti from the provisional pole, and then Briscoe went out and did the same to his teammate. Briscoe collected the extra bonus point that goes along with the ten thousand dollars that accompanies the pole award.
An all-Penske front row is the way you want to start the race tonight if you’re Ryan Briscoe. He and Franchitti have swapped places, as it is Dario that is looking at the back wing of Briscoe as he starts tonight’s race in third position directly behind Briscoe. Dario is in a yellow liveried Lifelock sponsored car that looks amazingly similar to Sarah Fisher’s Dollar General entry that is also at the track this weekend.
Tony Kanaan had a strong run in one of the ugliest colored cars I’ve ever seen on a track. Oscar Meyer sponsors his car this weekend. In place of the usual 7-Eleven green is a color that actually resembles the color of a hot dog. That color may look good with mustard surrounded by a bun, but it is hideous on a racecar. Kanaan calls it the “wiener mobile”. The wiener mobile starts fourth. Leading the Andretti-Green stable.
Graham Rahal had a good run for Chicago-based Newman/Haas/Lanigan and will start fifth. His teammate, Oriol Servia, had another good run with such little time in the car. Servia will start ninth. Scott Dixon was subdued after his qualifying run which puts him sixth on the grid. Being twenty-one points out of first place, he probably wanted better than that – for a psychological boost if nothing more.
The Andretti-Green cars ran very well in practice, but were a little further down in speed during actual qualifying. Besides Kanaan starting fourth, Marco beings in the seventh starting spot while Danica Patrick goes off in tenth. Rounding out the AGR camp is Hideki Mutoh, who starts a disappointing thirteenth.
The talk of the last oval race, Ed Carpenter starts in twelfth position for Vision Racing. It will be interesting to see if Carpenter can duplicate the run he had at Kentucky, where he fought Briscoe wheel to wheel over the last several laps to finish second by just a few feet. Dan Wheldon had a mediocre qualifying run. Given the fact that he and Panther Racing have combined for four wins at Chicago, you’d think they could have produced a better qualifying effort than eleventh. Maybe their race setup will have better results than their qualifying setup.
I was a little disappointed in Sarah Fisher’s run. She had been relatively quick during the practice session but was slower during her qualifying run. She will start nineteenth in tonight’s race. Hopefully, her car performs better in traffic than it does on its own. Selfishly, I’d really like to see Sarah have a strong run tonight.
HVM Racing continues to underperform. With this only the third race since he swapped teams, Robert Doornbos has already started complaining about the caliber of his new team. He’d better get used to it since he has signed through the 2010 season. He will start twenty-second (out of twenty-three) while his teammate EJ Viso will start twenty-first. In between them is Milka Duno sitting in the twenty-second starting spot. As usual, here’s hoping she stays safe and doesn’t affect the outcome of the race.
I have one gripe about the live streaming during qualifying. I understand that the video feed and the audio from the IMS Network are separate. But why does the video feed sometimes fail to follow what’s on the track. While Mike King was describing what could have been a run for the pole during Dario Franchitti’s qualifying run; the online viewers were instead treated to a nice view of the back of some guy on pit road holding a fire extinguisher during the entire run. Given the nature of the two feeds, I don’t expect them to be in sync, but what on earth was so exciting about said person with the fire extinguisher? This isn’t the first time it has happened. Many times we hear a qualifying run being described while we are looking at a kid playing in a trashcan. Somebody in a production truck is not paying attention.
Tonight I expect more of the same from last week. I think Ryan Briscoe’s team is on a mission. I expect Briscoe to dominate like he did at Texas. The only difference is that the new aero tweaks will allow him to fight his way back to the front in case he gets shuffled back due to a pit stop. I think Helio will maintain his focus tonight. I look for a Penske one-two sweep with Helio in the role of Briscoe’s wingman. I think Dario will continue his 2009 streak of not leading a single lap on a 1.5 mile oval. I see Dario fading to fifth or below. I also think Scott Dixon’s woes from Sonoma will continue. I see him falling further back and this essentially becoming a two-man race after tonight.
But what do I know? Nothing. After saying all of that watch Dixon snag the victory. But I don’t think so. Dixon has seemed a little uninspired for the last couple of weeks. I think that will continue. I do hope the excitement from the aero tweaks carry over from Kentucky. If so, it should be a great race.