Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti led the way for Honda in Sunday’s GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, putting pressure on IZOD IndyCar Series leader Will Power and eventual race winner Ryan Briscoe throughout the final laps of Sunday’s race as he finished third in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda Dallara.
Starting sixth, Franchitti avoided an opening lap incident that saw his teammate, Scott Dixon, spin out after contact from Helio Castroneves. Starting the race on the harder “black compound” Firestone tires, Franchitti was able to switch to the better gripping “reds” at his first scheduled pit stop, and he ran near the front of the field for the remainder of the 85-lap contest. A pair of late-race caution periods allowed him to challenge Power for second place, but the four-time series champion was never able to attempt a pass.
Behind Franchitti, Graham Rahal had one of his strongest runs this season to finish fifth for Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing, while seventh for Simon Pagenaud clinched IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors for the Schmidt Hamilton Racing driver. Charlie Kimball also had a strong run, moving from 21st on the starting grid to 11th place by Lap 66, the biggest gain of any driver. But a late race transmission problem dropped him three laps off the pace, resulting in an unrepresentative 21st-place finish.
After his first-lap drama, Dixon recovered to run seventh by Lap 30, but additional contact later in the race resulted in an unscheduled pit stop and a 13th-place finish. However, Dixon remains in contention for the drivers’ championship, fourth with 368 points and two races remaining.
The IZOD IndyCar Series now treks cross-country to Baltimore, Maryland for the final temporary street circuit race of the 2012 season, the Labor Day weekend Grand Prix of Baltimore on Sept. 2.
Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 6th, finished 3rd, his 3rd podium finish of the season: “In those final laps, I was definitely trying to mix it up with the Penske boys [Will Power and Ryan Briscoe], but I couldn’t get close enough. The Penske team was strong here when we tested, and they’ve been tough here all weekend. We\'re lacking just a little bit here and there, and need to work on the cars some more to make up the difference. It was a tough day for [teammate] Scott [Dixon] after he got taken out by Helio [Castroneves], so we’ll have to regroup and come back stronger next week in Baltimore.”
Graham Rahal (#38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 13th, finished 5th, his 4th top-five finish of 2012: “I’m really proud of my guys, they did an awesome job today. They worked incredibly hard and a result like this feels awfully good right now. Coming from 13th [starting position], to get a top-five, and to pass two guys on the outside at the last restart, felt really good. Overall, it was just a great [championship] points day for us.”
Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on today’s race: \"We knew this was going to be a tough race, Penske’s record here is very strong. Dario [Franchitti] did a great job of keeping the pressure on the leaders, and his podium finish was well earned, but unfortunately, it just wasn’t our weekend. We did see some excellent drives today from Graham [Rahal], Simon [Pagenaud] and Charlie [Kimball]. Congratulations to Simon for clinching Rookie of the Year, he’s definitely a future race and championship contender for us. And hopefully, Josef Newgarden is okay after his crash and will be fit to race in Baltimore. Now, our goal is to go out and win the final two races. I know our race team and everyone at HPD will be working hard over the next few weeks to finish the season on a high note.”