NEWTON, Iowa -- Dario Franchitti won the third of the first three qualifying heat races in the history of the current IndyCar series Friday to take the pole for the Iowa Corn Indy 250.
Franchitti, the Indianapolis 500 winner, has two victories in four starts on Iowa’s short oval.
Helio Castroneves will start on the front row with Franchitti, followed by 2011 winner Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Briscoe.
The starting grid was set by three 30-lap heat races seeded according to practice times. The eight fastest in the last practice competed in the final heat, which set the first four rows for the Saturday night race. The opening two heats seeded the rest of the starting grid.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard had previously floated the idea of a doubleheader at Iowa for 2012, with one race Saturday night and another Sunday afternoon. Those plans were scratched, but the series still wanted to try something new at a track that has been very supportive of the series since it hosted its first IndyCar race in 2007.
The idea was to add a little excitement to what’s typically a single car doing a pair of laps as fast it can. Even Friday’s late practice held added importance because the heat grids were set by the times registered during that session.
Putting together one of the eight fastest practice times was crucial, and Andretti and Franchitti topped a session that saw five drivers top 185 mph
Franchitti then grabbed an early lead in the final heat race and held off Castroneves and Andretti for his first pole at Iowa.
Qualifying heat races have long been a staple of short-track racing on lower levels. In fact, perhaps the most popular and well known dirt track in the world, the Knoxville Raceway, is a short ride from Iowa Speedway.
But some drivers expressed concern that heat races would increase the chance their equipment would be damaged. There weren’t any incidents though, as the cars had more room to pass and cleaner air to drive through because there were a lot less of them on the track.
Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan and E.J. Viso were all penalized 10 spots on the starting grid for unapproved engine changes prior to qualifying. Though it’ll certainly hamper their chances, recent history suggests they’ll have room to maneuver Saturday night.
Kanaan won in 2010 after starting 15th, and Andretti moved up from 17th to win in 2011, a victory that broke a five-year drought.
Rahal won his heat from green flag to checkered, finishing over 6 seconds ahead of the field, and Kanaan won the second heat by over 3 seconds.