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IndyCar: Franchitti grabs pole for Grand Prix of Sonoma

  • Australian IndyCar driver Will Power takes a turn during practice at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday. (RICH PEDRONCELLI/Associated Press)

SONOMA — Although Dario Franchitti hasn't won an IndyCar race since last year's Indianapolis 500, he's in prime position to snap that unpleasant streak when he starts on the pole Sunday in an excellent Honda at Sonoma Raceway.

But if he can help Scott Dixon by stepping off the gas a bit, Franchitti would be happy to follow team orders.

Franchitti won't put his personal success ahead of Target Chip Ganassi Racing's fortunes. That means Dixon will get every chance to gain ground on IndyCar points leader Helio Castroneves (453 points), who leads second-place Dixon (422) with five races to go.

"I want to win the race, obviously," Franchitti said after turning a lap in 1 minute, 17.5271 seconds to win his 33rd career pole. "But the big picture — and we say this every year in our team — we sit in the first meeting of the year, and our two goals are to win the 500 and win the championship. We didn't win the 500, so we've got to win the championship. Scott is our best shot at that, and whatever I can do to help him win that championship, I will."

Will Power also hasn't won an IndyCar race since early last season in Sao Paulo, yet he feels the same way about Team Penske teammate Castroneves, who needs a strong finish in the waning weeks of the IndyCar season to earn his first championship.

"Anything to help Helio win the championship," said Power, who finished second in each of the last three years.

Dixon finished qualifying in second place at 1:17.7196, while Castroneves starts back in fifth behind Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay. That distance isn't much, but it's a bit tougher to make up at Sonoma Raceway, a 2.385-mile road course in Northern California wine country.

Passing is uncommonly difficult on the winding, 12-turn Sonoma track, which makes qualifying particularly important. Four pole-sitters have won the race, and nobody has moved up to win from farther than fifth.

It's tough even under ideal conditions, but the Bay Area wind has been unpredictable this week, its direction changing 180 degrees over the course of many afternoons. The wind also blows Sonoma sand onto the track, creating unpredictable tire conditions and general uncertainty with every turn.

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