Franchitti tops opening practice at Infineon

IZOD IndyCar Series championship points leader Dario Franchitti was quickest of the session (1:19.4269) in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car as teams began preparations for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.Will Power, who trails Franchitti by 47 points in the standings, was second (1:19.5633) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske entry. Teammate Helio Castroneves (1:19.6638) was third.Scott Dixon, driving the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, was fourth (1:20.0421). Giorgio Pantano, who is filling in for the injured Justin Wilson i nthe No. 22 TranSystems/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car, was fifth (1:20.1292) and Sebastien Bourdais (1:20.2283) was sixth in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing.Teammate James Jakes, Ana Beatriz, Oriol Servia and E.J. Viso also were in the top 10.  DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:The IZOD IndyCar Series will compete in the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, a 75-lap race at 4:45 p.m. (EDT) Sunday. The Star Mazda Championship, the second step on the Mazda Road to Indy, will race a 1-hour race at 5 p.m. Saturday.***This is the seventh IZOD IndyCar Series event at Infineon Raceway. There has never been a repeat winner here in the six previous races. Past winners at Infineon Raceway include Tony Kanaan (2005), Marco Andretti (2006), Scott Dixon (2007), Helio Castroneves (2008), Dario Franchitti (2009) and Will Power (2010). All six are entered this weekend.***Live timing and scoring reports from the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma are available on the Internet at The live timing and scoring module provides statistical information, including track segment speeds, lap information and much more. Feature stories, reports, driver quotes and notes, and photos will be posted on the site each day. More detailed information, including media advisories and VNF coordinates, is available at***Drivers will have 15 total pushes of the Honda overtake assist - an ECU software alteration employed by Honda Performance Development - each lasting 15 seconds during the Edmonton Indy. It is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout. There is a 10-second recovery period between pushes. One overtake assist push is available for the final practice session.***Scott Dixon could write a book, "IndyCar 101 for grade-schoolers," based on the number of questions he received from more than 150 students at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in San Francisco.The two-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion fielded questions about his racing career, his accent (New Zealand) and the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car he'll drive at Infineon Raceway this weekend during an assembly at the school. Having their attention, he also read to the students."Reading brings everyone together," said Dixon, who added he reads to his 2-year-old daughter Poppy each evening.Target, with the help of First Book, donated a book to each of the students, in addition to announcing a $2,000 grant to the school to select books it for its library."As a father, I understand the importance of reading to kids and getting them excited about learning at an early age," Dixon said. "Target is a longtime sponsor of my No. 9 car, and I'm honored to help them promote literacy among children - a cause at the heart of the company's giving."***Alfe Heat Treating, Inc. returns as an associate sponsor of A.J. Foyt Racing for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma and the IZOD INDYCAR World Championship.The Fort Wayne, Ind.-based company, which is the largest commercial aluminum heat treating operation in the United States, made its IZOD IndyCar Series debut on the Nos. 14 and 41 cars in the Indianapolis 500.***Nine drivers will compete at Infineon Raceway for the first time in the IZOD IndyCar Series, including James Hinchcliffe in the No. 06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing car.However, he has competed four other times in open-wheel racing at the track -- qualified fourth and finished sixth in the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights race, started and finish third in the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights race, and earned his first series pole, podium and win in the 2005 Star Mazda doubleheader event."I took the lead in Turn 1 and never looked back and got my first win so the track has some fond memories for me," he said.***Each entry for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma receives six sets (24 total) of Firestone Firehawk primary tires (blacks) and three sets (12 total) of Firestone Firehawk alternate tires (reds) for the race weekend. The Firestone Firehawk primary tires are the same spec used last month on the  Edmonton City Centre Airport circuit. The alternate will be making its debut at Infineon Raceway."Many teams tested here last week on our primary spec, but the performance characteristics of the alternates will remain a wild card -- likely until Saturday's qualifying," Firestone Racing executive director Al Speyer said. "It will be something to watch."***Tony Kanaan and Dixon are the only drivers to complete every lap of all six events at Infineon Raceway. … Infineon Raceway has almost 1,700 Panasonic solar panels installed throughout the facility. The raceway has recycled more than 208 tons of materials since 2004, uses more than 3,000 sheep to help maintain the grasses and fire lanes around the facility and has built 15 owl boxes around the property to encourage nesting and eliminate the need for pesticides in controlling rodents. ... Target's Bull-Terrier mascot, Bullseye, will be making appearances at Infineon Raceway all weekend, including the driver autograph session Aug. 27 (4:45 p.m. at the INDYCAR Fan Village).***Simon Pagenaud has his own version of planes, trains and automobiles to share this weekend.Pagenaud was testing a Peugeot sports car in Spain when his manager, Derrick Walker, called to say, "Hey, head to the West Coast," at the behest of HVM Racing owner Keith Wiggins."No problem," said Pagenaud, who will drive the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy car during the 45-minute practice session today as regular driver Simona de Silvestro works out Customs and Border Protection issues entering the United States from Switzerland.Pagenaud, who also competes in the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup for Peugeot Sport, will participate in today's session on the 2.303-mile, 12-turn road course and be in the car until de Silvestro returns."It's my job and what I love to do," said Pagenaud, who has competed in two IZOD IndyCar Series races this season for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing -- both as a fill-in for injured drivers Justin Wilson (Mid-Ohio) and Ana Beatriz (Barber Motorsports Park). "As everybody knows I want to be in IndyCar next year so when an opportunity like this comes up to drive the car for HVM is an opportunity I really need, especially with a good team like this one."It's unfortunate what happened to Simona and you obviously never wish to have this situation." After testing at Infineon Raceway last week with 19 other IZOD IndyCar Series drivers, de Silvestro traveled to Switzerland to visit with family and friends. Upon attempting to return to the U.S., she encountered a technical issue with Customs and Border Protection. HVM and INDYCAR are working to resolve the situation."It's an unfortunate situation," Wiggins said. "We could never have imagined this kind of an issue going into a race weekend and it just adds more challenges to our 2011 season, but it's in the team's best interest to continue our program. We're lucky to have another world-class driver like Simon Pagenaud who's willing to step up and work with us to achieve a successful result."***Go Daddy will expand its sponsorship platform with Andretti Autosport for 2012 and beyond.The domain registrar announced it will continue to be the primary sponsor of an Andretti Autosport car in addition to joining forces with three generations of Andrettis (Mario, Michael and Marco) as spokesmen."Three generations of Andrettis - now that's just plain cool," said Go Daddy CEO and founder Bob Parsons. "Deciding to stay with IndyCar was a pretty easy decision. The fans are great. Imagine the marketing potential. Mario is an absolute icon. Michael has been Go Daddy's partner as a team owner for five years now and Marco is a young man who is already in the racing record books. This is not your 'everyday' sponsorship, that's for sure."Parsons said the Andrettis will be part of Go Daddy TV commercials as early as this winter. On Aug. 27, they will be featured during the first Ortsbo INDYCAR global interactive event at Infineon Raceway."Go Daddy sticking with IndyCar is a tremendous win for our sport on so many levels," INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard said. "Go Daddy is a dream sponsor. They know how to create excitement and build brand buzz. This is just the kind of sponsor we need in INDYCAR."***Eight, believed to be an auspicious number in Chinese culture, was perfect for Ho-Pin Tung as he sought to become the first driver from the People's Republic of China to compete in the Indianapolis 500.Well, that didn't work out as planned in May. He's back with Schmidt Dragon Racing for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma in the No. 88 car. Maybe 88 will double his luck at Infineon Raceway (shuang xi meaning double joy)."We'll try again here and hopefully it will bring me more luck," said Tung, whose crash on his first qualification attempt on Pole Day curtailed his effort to qualify for the 33-car lineup for the 100th anniversary Indy 500. "It was a difficult week because of the weather and the whole build-up and me being inexperienced on ovals and in American open-wheel racing. We were unlucky to be caught out by the conditions on Pole Day."IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fastest of the day): "The Target car was different today than the test here last week. When we left the test, I had a lot of thoughts on what we needed to improve and where it was bad. I talked with my engineer a lot heading into this weekend just to make sure they understood what was feeling bad for me. He has done a great job getting the changes made and I felt good in the car out there. There is still room to improve, but I am happy with the performance today. It feels like there is some more grip compared to the test here, and I hope that the track just continued to get better as the weekend progresses."WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, second fastest): "We are very close to getting the car where we need it. It just comes down to sorting out the fine details. The team will try to think about the changes we can make tonight and see where we can go tomorrow. We tested here last week and it is for sure a driver's track. It is all about getting the different sectors to come together. It can be tough to get the balance just right. My weekend here last year was perfect and those are pretty hard to come by, but Verizon Team Penske is definitely aiming for that."HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske, third fastest): "The Guidepoint Systems car was really good today - we had a great balance on the car right off of the truck. Certainly we still have some work to do, but this is good start to the weekend. Now we just have to do our best to keep the momentum moving forward towards a good qualifying result tomorrow and Sunday in the race."GIORGIO PANTANO (No. 22 TranSystems/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, fifth fastest): "We are OK, but I'm sure there's a lot we can do. A lot we can gain from what we did today. We just need to check the data and work with the engineers to see where we can find more overall grip. I'm sure tomorrow we will be closer to where we want to be."SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America): "I don't think anyone is happy here. The grip is very low, so the fun we get behind the wheel is not very high, but in terms of relative pace, it seems to be all right. It's just not much fun out there. A normal lap time here is a 77-something, and for some reason it's like two or three seconds off. That makes for a pretty bad feeling behind the wheel, but I think we understood  quite a few things about the test and it's definitely going in the right direction. We'll see how it goes. It's a very fine line between what you want to do around the track as you get a bit of everything - understeer, oversteer and that's what happens on a low grip track. The Boy Scout team did a great job, but we still have a lot of work to do."CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen): "It was a really good start to the weekend for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team. I think we have a little more lap time in it that we'll be able to get tomorrow and the rest of the weekend. The No. 83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen car unloaded fast and we have a good direction. We made a few changes that worked and a few that didn't. I think we'll be in good shape for practice and qualifying tomorrow."GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central): "We just have to work on it. We didn't get a good first run which seems to be critical; the new tires are a really, really big deal. Then after that the No. 38 Service Central car was incredibly loose -it was a handful. The Service Central team is going to work on it tonight; we're not far out but we have a lot of work to do, so we'll continue to work hard before qualifying tomorrow."RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 Penske Truck Rental): "We feel good about the laps we did today in the Penske Truck Rental car, though the speed doesn't really show it. We learned a few things in practice and where we need to go. Now we'll focus on getting into it more tomorrow to keep improving."ORIOL SERVIA (No. 2 Telemundo Newman/Haas Racing): "The Telemundo car was very similar to how it was last week at the test here. It was a typical first session; the track was a little dirty but the car felt pretty similar. I think we are a little better than the time sheets show though. I'm sure everyone will say they couldn't put it (lap time) together but I literally couldn't. I'm not totally unhappy with today and I don't think we need to change the car. I think we will be in good shape."JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 06 Sprott Newman/Haas Racing): "This is a track I have always enjoyed in everything I have driven here. It was cool to get a couple of laps in the big car here but the session was a little more eventful than we would have liked given that its race weekend. We had a couple of little things that if I could describe to you I would. Its not that I'm hiding anything; we just really don't know what was going on with the car. We're going to have a good look at it and talk to Oriol a little bit more and see what he felt in the car but I have a feeling we're going to have some work to do tonight and, hopefully, a smoother day tomorrow."MIKE CONWAY (No. 27 @FollowAndretti): "We improved the car at the end of the session. We made a couple of changes that seemed to help the handling. But we still need to find some time. We can't seem to get the grip that we need right now. We'll look over our setups tonight and be ready for the morning practice on Saturday."RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 27 Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop Citrus Soda): "It was a pretty challenging first day for us. We'll have to change a lot of the settings for Saturday. It was different from last week's test. We felt the car was okay last week. That wasn't the case today. Just overall lack of grip in the Team DHL/Circle K/Sun Drop car. But I think we can turn it around for Saturday."DANICA PATRICK (No. 7 Team GoDaddy): "It was a frustrating day for the GoDaddy team. We will go over all of our data tonight and look for an improved setup on Saturday. I didn't test here last week due to my NASCAR race in Montreal. But I have finished in the top-ten here several times. So I think we can get the proper setup for practice and qualifying."MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team All Natural Snapple): "The conditions weren't as good as we thought they would be today. The track just seemed slippery and we couldn't get the grip we would have liked. I know that was the case for all four of our cars today. This place is always tricky with the surface. We'll work hard overnight to get the improvements that we need. We'll get everyone together and study the problems. I think we'll be better on Saturday."E.J. VISO (No. 59 PDVSA - KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "It was exciting being back out on track, but we have a lot of work to do with the car. We are lacking a huge amount of grip. I think all three KVRT - Lotus drivers agree on that. So we are going to have to work to fix that problem. Some of the testing we did last week has been helpful, but we need to work some more to make the car faster. This is one of those races where it is important to qualify well and the setup needs to be just right in order to have a good race.    

TONY KANAAN (No. 82 GEICO - KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "I did not test here last week so this was my first time on track since last year and I am working with a new engineer this weekend, so today about getting to know each other. I think it is obvious we have a lot of work to do with the car before tomorrow's qualifying. Fortunately, we have a lot of data to review and another practice tomorrow morning before qualifying."TAKUMA SATO (No. 5 KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "The problem we had at the test last week was getting the balance right and even though the car is better, we still have that problem. The car is just lacking grip. We collected some data today and checked some things we saw at the test, which worked out how we expected, so that was good. However, we need to find more speed."***The next IZOD IndyCar Series event is the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 28 at Infineon Raceway. The race will be televised live at 4 p.m. (ET) by VERSUS and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is Baltimore 100 on Sept. 4 at the Streets of Baltimore. The race will be televised live at Noon (ET) by VERSUS.