DETROIT (AP) — Scott Dixon won his first pole of the year, snapping Penske Racing’s streak of having the fastest car in IndyCar qualifying this season.
Dixon hopes the favorable position — thanks to clocking a track record of 1 minute, 10.3162 seconds Saturday — will help him snap a five-race winless skid this year.
It certainly should help the two-time series champion’s chances to win the 28th race of his career at the Detroit Grand Prix, where a slick and tight 2.07-mile course isn’t known for much maneuvering. The past two races on Belle Isle, in 2008 and 2007, had just nine lead changes combined when Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan won.
“It’s one of the toughest tracks we come to as far as passing,” Dixon said after earning his 18th career pole. “It’s definitely a handful to get around here.
“It’s a fun track, but man it’s crazy out there.
Penske’s Will Power, the IndyCar points leader, will start Sunday’s race alongside Dixon in the front row, Alex Tagliani will begin a season-best third with Simon Pagenaud fourth and EJ Viso fifth.
Dixon gave Chip Ganassi Racing its first pole this year and hopes to give the team its second straight win.
It will be tough for Dario Franchitti to do it.
The reigning Indianapolis 500 champion and Ganassi driver will start 15th in the 25-car field. He blamed Ed Carpenter’s sputtering car and questionable tactics for getting in his way and slowing him down in qualifying.
“When a faster car does come up, get the hell out of the road,” Franchitti said. “At some point, when we’re in that position we can return the favor.”
Franchitti, though, acknowledged it might be difficult to get payback by winning a race that doesn’t lend itself to passing.
“It’s tough,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of aggression from everyone back there.”
Franchitti started his last race 16th and finished in front, winning his third signature race in open-wheel racing after making an Indianapolis 500-record 35th lead change.
Dixon finished second to Franchitti for the sixth time in his career Sunday and was a runner-up for the third time in five races this season. He led 44 laps at the Indy 500 and exchanged leads with Franchitti 10 times during the last 60 laps.
Penske won the first four IndyCar races with Chevrolet engines before IndyCar gave Honda-powered teams, such as Ganassi’s, a boost that paid off for Franchitti in one of Ganassi’s cars at the Indy 500.
“I think I got his attention last week,” Ganassi said. “We still have to race on Sunday.”
With Penske’s money, power and passion, the area in which he lives has an auto race again for the first time since 2008.
“This is an opportunity to showcase Detroit,” Penske said. “We have 5 hours of TV coverage, great support from the corporate community along with having the mayor’s office and city council on the same page to benefit the city and region.”
Penske is hoping the series’ owners can stick together after he said they were unified during an hour-long gathering prior to a meeting with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard on Saturday afternoon.
“Everyone in there is good,” Penske said before taking off on a scooter — just minutes before Bernard walked in the Panther Racing hospitality tent to address the group.
Bernard, the leader of a series that seems to be building momentum off a thrilling Indy 500, confirmed speculation on his Twitter account that a team owner is trying to get him fired. Bernard doesn’t regret publicly fueling the discord, adding he has been an advocate for the owners during his two-plus years in charge. He was pleased with his talk with owners that lasted almost 40 minutes.
“We had a very productive meeting,” he said. “It was excellent.”
Power hopes IndyCar leadership, team owners and drivers can figure out a way to avoid stunting success that has been building since two American open-wheel series became one in 2008 after division drained the interest in the sport.
“We’re growing in terms of fans at the track, sponsorships, competition at the track and car count,” Power said. “If you think about where we are compared to five years ago, it’s a massive difference — night and day.”
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)