Harris: IndyCar Finale Shaping Up As A Very Civil War

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 7 2009
One of these three guys – Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti – will be spraying the big bottle of champagne after Homestead. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

One of these three guys – Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti – will be spraying the big bottle of champagne after Homestead. (Photo courtesy of the IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

One thing about the three-man championship battle in the IndyCar Series:  It’s extremely civil.

No bad-mouthing. No psych-outs. As gentlemanly as a duel, only contested wheel-to-wheel at 200 mph.

Scott Dixon, the two-time and defending champion, is a close friend of his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate and closest pursuer,  Dario Franchitti. And both of them apparently have nothing but admiration and respect for the Ryan Briscoe, the youngest of the trio and representing Team Penske, the winningest open-wheel racing team in history.

All season long, these friendly rivals have played it cool, giving each other their due when things have gone right and mouthing only platitudes when one of them has made the inevitable mistake on the race track or on pit road.

Meanwhile, all three have tried to beat the brains out of the other two on the racetrack.

So, here we are, heading into the season-ending Firestone Indy 300 Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the second closest three-way points race in IndyCar history.

Now, separated by just eight points in the standings, it all comes down to the finale, and it appears none of the three contenders are the least concerned about getting into each others heads.

“Well, I think the three of us have raced very closely throughout the whole season,’’ Briscoe said in a three-way teleconference Wednesday. “We have a bit of confidence and faith in each other’s abilities at this point. I think that’s got to continue.

“I don’t really see anything different  happening in the race. We’ve got to be smart, aggressive, but safe as well. And certainly take it to the (finish) line. I think we’ve sort of worked up a certain amount of respect between the three of us, which we’re going to need going into this race.’’

“Everybody’s prepared, seemingly, as they prepared for every race,’’ said Franchitti, who beat Dixon for the title on the final lap in 2007 when the Scotsman was racing for Andretti Green. “We just go out there and do our best and see what we can do. Confidence‑level wise, I think all three of us are fairly confident. We’ve had a good season. And it’s just whoever does the best on Saturday night who gets a little bit of luck as well.’’

Dixon chimed in, “I think Saturday night’s definitely going to be very tough. And I suspect that all three of us will be neck and neck for the race win at the end.’’

But don’t expect all this good will to play any part in the final on-track act of 2009.

“The No. 9 (Dixon) and the No. 10 (Franchitti), they’re very competitive,’’ Franchitti said. “You know we’re under no doubts that we each want to beat each other in any race, and obviously, the championship as a whole.

“But I think we do it with the right attitude. We go out there, in Japan (last month), for instance, we did everything we could to beat the No. 9 car in the pits to get back in the lead. There wasn’t a case of `OK, you guys are 1‑2 now, take it easy.’  It was, `How are we going to beat Scott?’ And that’s a very healthy rivalry, and it works very well. But when the race is over, we go back to having a good time.’’

Dixon agreed, adding, “First, you’ve got to work together with your teammate, and then see what plays out. But both of our teams have done a lot of preparation and are looking forward to it. Obviously, the winner picks up the bar tab. So the other guy might win in the end.’’

Briscoe is the least experienced and the only member of the contending trio without a championship. He’s also in the toughest position, having to move up two spots in the championship’s final race to get that first title.

“Oh, it would be unbelievable,’’ Briscoe said. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted something so much.

“You know, it really has been a fantastic year for me. Mistakes have been made on my part, but I feel I’m still improving and getting stronger and need to improve on some areas. But it’s just a phenomenal feeling being where I am right now. I wouldn’t have thought it a few years ago.’’

It’s the third straight year the championship has come down to the final race of the season, but it’s also the first time the finale has been contested on the tough 1.5-mile Florida oval.

“I think it’s a perfect scenario,’’ Dixon said. “It’s Florida, it’s Miami in October. It’s hot. Obviously it’s going to be a twilight race, which is even better. The cars look fantastic under the lights. The track always provides great racing.

“I tend to like the scenario of being at Homestead a little more than being at Chicago (the previous finale), because Chicago’s almost pretty much just straight out speed. Whereas Miami-Homestead, is definitely a little more technical, a little more grip reliance, to make sure you have a car mechanically that’s quite good and the driver can manipulate that quite a bit. So I think it’s more of a team effort whoever wins at Homestead.’’

And, while each of the contenders would love to lead every lap and make Saturday night’s race a total bore for everyone else, they know that’s not likely in a series where closes finishes on ovals have been the rule rather than the exception.

This race will be no different. Friendship and admiration aside, these guys will give no quarter and ask for none on the racetrack.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s typical IndyCar Series, last race, last corner, last lap,’’ Dixon said. “It’s going to come down to that.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 7 2009
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