Published May 25, 2012
| Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS – Target Chip Ganassi Racing has won the last four points championships and two of the last four Indianapolis 500s.
After this year's trying May, the team finally got it right Friday.
Ganassi's top two drivers — Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon — finished atop the speed charts on the final day of practice, and a few hours later, Dixon handed Ganassi his first win in the Carb Day pit stop competition.
Those inside the team garage are hoping it's the start to a better race day Sunday.
"For us, it was just concentrating on the car and making sure it feels decent in traffic and making sure the systems work," said Dixon, a two-time points champ and the 2008 Indy winner. "It's nice to come out of the warm-up with confidence and know that you have a car you feel happy with."
Dixon, who is from New Zealand, posted the second-fastest lap in practice, 222.274 mph.
The only one that went faster was his Scottish teammate, Franchitti, who had a 222.360. American Marco Andretti was third fastest at 221.702.
It was a needed boost for a Ganassi team that spent most of the month trying to chase down the more powerful Chevrolet engines. Ganassi's team uses Hondas.
Most expected at least Dixon and Franchitti to make the Pole Day shootout, but none of Ganassi's four drivers made it into the top nine to vie for the actual pole. Graham Rahal was the top qualifier at No. 12, while Charlie Kimball, Dixon and Franchitti qualified 14th, 15th and 16th.
But just when it looked like Ganassi's team was struggling on the Brickyard's 2.5-mile oval, the team pulled off a rare double -- taking the top two spots on the speed charts and then giving the team owner his first win in the pit stop competition.
Dixon's crew defeated the crew of Panther-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing driver Oriol Servia by about three seconds in the final round of the competition. Ganassi had finished as the runner-up three times.
"It's nice to have days like this and moments for the guys because, you know, they are forgotten sometimes and they prepare harder than all of us," Dixon said after the pit stop win. "There's been a few change-ups and things like this, but today was flawless. They didn't make a mistake."
Ana Beatriz, who drives for Andretti Autosport, was the only driver who did not complete a lap in practice.
BEATING THE HEAT: Fans aren't the only ones who will be contending with the heat on Sunday.
Drivers, too, are making big plans to stay hydrated on what could be the hottest race in 500 history. The forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid-90s. The record of 92 degrees on race day was set in 1937.
"Indy is always a physical race and I think three hours in that kind of heat will be a real test," Franchitti said.
And not just for the drivers.
The new cars have yet to race on an oval, and the new engines have yet to go 500 miles on race day, either.
Add a slick track and the unseasonably hot temperatures at Indianapolis to the mix, and nobody knows what to expect Sunday.
"You have to hydrate before the race," Tony Kanaan said. "Nobody knows the reliability of the cars and the engines because it's a new car and we've only got four races in and none of those are on ovals."
NEW LIGHTS CAR: IndyCar's developmental series, Indy Lights, plans to debut a new car in 2014.
Series officials said Friday that potential manufacturers have already received a request to make their proposal for new engines and new chassis, and that formal applications must be submitted by June 30.
The new cars are expected to have a more contemporary design with a chassis that can compete on road and street courses as well ovals with minimal parts changes, chassis that are safer and accommodate more drivers and different seating positions, improved aerodynamic performance and the ability to use alternative fuels.
Some of the graduates of the Indy Lights Series starting in Sunday's race include 2011 champion Josef Newgarden, 2009 champion JR Hildebrand, three-time Freedom 100 winner Wade Cunningham and Hinchcliffe.
THE WINNER IS: Colombia's Sebastian Saavedra missed out on his bid to win both races in Indy this weekend. Saavedra, the Indy Lights points leader, finished fifth after starting 10th.
A bold move late in the Freedom 100 gave Esteban Guerrieri the lead and the Argentine held on to win a crash-marred Indy Lights race Friday in Indianapolis.
The developmental series race was largely run in packs and included a wild early melee that brought out a red flag, stopping the race because of damage to a barrier. Another hard hit late in the race brought out a yellow that did not give rookie Carlos Munoz a chance to catch Guerrieri.
It's the fourth consecutive year Sam Schmidt Motorsports has won the Freedom 100. France's Tristan Vautier, another rookie, was third behind Munoz.
Four drivers went to the infield medical center, including Emerson Newton-John, the nephew of singer Olivia Newton-John. All were cleared and released.
Saavedra will start 24th, the outside of Row 8, in Sunday's 500.
PIT STOPS: Quaker Chemical Corp. has announced it will serve as a sponsor for Bryan Clauson's No. 39 car, which is owned by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. ... The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation raised nearly $300,000 at its 13th annual Racing to Recovery Gala in Indy. The money helps support medical research to find a cure for paralysis. In addition, Schmidt presented Johnny Rutherford with the Legendary Driver Award. ... ESPN's Jamie Little plans to work Sunday's race in the pits even though she is expecting her first child Aug. 8. ... Franchitti also served as the color analyst for the Freedom 100 on the track's public address system.