WEST ALLIS, Wis. – The way Dario Franchitti sees it, adjusting a race car to handle just right at any given track is sort of like solving a puzzle.
All the pieces fell into place for Franchitti and his team at the Milwaukee Mile on Friday, as they found enough speed to rebound from a couple of subpar practice sessions and claim the pole for Saturday's race with a two-lap average of 168.737 mph.
"That was cool," Franchitti said. "I didn't expect anything like that."
It was the 27th pole of Franchitti's IndyCar career, and his second straight at Milwaukee. Franchitti won the Milwaukee race from pole position last year.
Justin Wilson, last week's winner at Texas, qualified second. Ryan Hunter-Reay was third, followed by Will Power and Rubens Barrichello.
But Wilson and Power are two of the seven drivers facing a 10-position penalty for making an unapproved engine change, and will have to drop back into the field before the start of the race.
The penalties will bump Hunter-Reay up to the second starting spot for the race, with Barrichello in third. Helio Castroneves and E.J. Viso will move into the top five at the start.
Power and Scott Dixon — who are first and second in the series points standings — and Wilson, Ryan Briscoe, Mike Conway, Takuma Sato and Josef Newgarden all face 10-spot starting grid penalties for unapproved engine changes.
IndyCar has established mileage minimums teams must hit before they are allowed to change engines, an attempt to help teams save money by forcing them to make their engines last longer.
Despite the penalty, Wilson believes he can make his way to the front and contend.
"I'm hoping we can get back to the front and be there at the end," Wilson said. "You only have to lead the last lap."
After winning at Texas on Saturday, Wilson has spent part of this week dealing with the fallout from a separate penalty.
A postrace inspection at Texas found unapproved pieces of bodywork fitted to the sidepods of Wilson's car. Wilson was docked five points while his Dale Coyne Racing team was fined $7,500.
Other drivers have questioned whether Wilson's penalty wasn't harsh enough, but Wilson believes the relatively light punishment is an indication that IndyCar officials didn't think it was particularly serious.
"We're focused on trying to do well," Wilson said. "We believe — and I think by the size of the fine from IndyCar, they believe — that it didn't really make any difference at Texas.
Franchitti wasn't able to join several other teams in an earlier test session at Milwaukee. He had other commitments after winning his third Indianapolis 500.
So when his team got to Milwaukee — a place Franchitti has mastered in the past — they were off the pace in both practice sessions Friday. Franchitti huddled with his team before qualifying to come up with adjustments that might make the car run better.
So when Franchitti saw his quick times come up in qualifying, he was pleasantly surprised.
"We didn't really have a car that had good balance, that was quick, any of those things," Franchitti said.
Now Franchitti and his team have to figure out how to make their car go just as fast in race conditions, too.
"We know what we need the car to do," Franchitti said. "Hopefully our qualifying setup will give us some direction, and we'll go from there."