Dario Franchitti claims pole at #HondaIndy Toronto

Three-time Toronto winner edges points leader Will Power for P1

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On Friday, he led the practice sessions. And on Saturday, he topped the charts again.

Now comes the matter of claiming a fourth victory on the streets of Toronto for Dario Franchitti.

The four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion will lead the field to the green flag at Exhibition Place tomorrow (12:30 pm ET, ABC) after topping current championship leader Will Power by just .0247 of a second in the Firestone Fast Six session.

Franchitti may be down in the title hunt this season, sitting 70 points behind Power in eight place with just six races remaining. But with two victories in the last three tries in Toronto, the Scotsman couldn’t have picked a better place to start a late drive back to contention.

“The Firestone reds have felt really good and we hit the rhythm and got really good grip during qualifying to get to the top,” said Franchitti, who earned his first Indy-car pole position at Toronto back in 1997. “That was a really hard earned pole.”

Now Franchitti is in the best spot possible to avoid the regular attrition that comes with racing on the 1.8-mile Toronto street circuit. Power’s also in a good place to escape the potential mayhem on the outside of Row 1.

“We’re happy to start on the front row,” said Power. “We all know what this race is about a lot of crashing and bashing, so we’ll stay out of that and be in good shape.”

Meanwhile, his championship rivals — Ryan Hunter-Reay (second place, 3 points behind Power), Scott Dixon (third place, 15 points behind), Helio Castroneves (fourth place, 25 points behind) and Toronto’s own James Hinchcliffe (fifth place, 30 points behind) — will have to work their way to the front in varying degrees.

Dixon will start fifth tomorrow, while Hunter-Reay will go from sixth and Castroneves from seventh. But hometown hero Hinchcliffe will have to start 19th after qualifying ninth due to a 10-spot grid penalty for changing engines after Friday practice.

“Our big thing is we were using up our tires quicker than other guys,” said Hinchcliffe. “I think the second lap was always my quickest and I didn’t have a chance to improve on that, so it’s too bad. We have to take the penalty so we’ll start 19th and see what we can do from there.”

Hinch’s Canadian compatriot, Quebec native Alex Tagliani, also has incurred a 10-spot penalty this weekend and isn’t much better off on the grid as a result. He made the Firestone Fast Six, but will have to begin Sunday’s race from 16th.

Ahead of them in the second row are past Toronto winners Justin Wilson and Sebastien Bourdais, both of them legitimate dark horses this weekend and both of them coming back from the scary incident that involved their teams on Friday. Another potential sleeper is rookie Simon Pagenaud, who will come from eighth starting position.

The official starting grid is slated to be released after tomorrow morning’s 30-minute warm-up, which begins at 8:30 a.m. ET.

What to watch for

1. Trouble at Turn 3

As one of the three major passing zones on the Honda Indy Toronto circuit (the others being Turn 1 and Turn 8), the right-hand Turn 3 is also a magnet for incidents such as what happened last year at that corner between Will Power and Dario Franchitti. After going balls-out down Lake Shore Boulevard, drivers are forced to brake hard and navigate the tight turn, which has become one of the most infamous in all of INDYCAR. To borrow from the NASCAR vernacular, expect more than one of “them racin’ deals” to go down Sunday at T3.

2. On the surface

Drivers have had to deal with repaved surfaces at many points of the circuit this weekend, making the task of switching from concrete to asphalt even tougher due to a lack of grip. We’ll see if those repaved areas will catch anyone by surprise and ruin their race in a flash.

3. O Canada

Quebec’s Alex Tagliani and Ontario’s James Hinchcliffe are starting deep in the field thanks to engine penalties. Canadian fans haven’t seen one of their own win at Toronto since Paul Tracy did it in 2003, and they’d love to see either Tag or Hinch (but especially the latter due to his Toronto ties) take the checkered flag. However, thanks to their poor starting positions, a bit of strategy may be in order for both of them if they’re going to have a chance on Sunday.

4. Power surge?

His lead in the championship is down to three points, but with five straight road/street races on tap, Will Power is still sitting in a good position. His front row start on Sunday is critical and if he can drive away, he’ll be far away from the pack and the chaos that can ensue there. And if any of that chaos involves his pursuers in the title race, then Power could have a very big day in Canada.

All quotes were taken from INDYCAR trackside reports.