Franchitti Wins Pole, Eyes Third Title

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 1 2010

Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi are chasing another championship this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Dario Franchitti’s relentless pursuit of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series title is based upon a simple but time-tested premise.

“Every point counts. Whether it’s the first race, the fifth race, the last race, every single one of those points count,” said Franchitti, who won the pole for Saturday night’s season-ending Cafes do Brazil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway and who arrived in South Florida 12 points behind series leader Will Power. ”That’s something I’ve definitely tried to kind of put into practice, I guess. I think the speed’s always been there…and the consistency was there.  The other times, it’s to get the speed and the consistency working together.”

The IndyCar Series champion in 2007 and 2009, Franchitti’s late-season title-fighting actually dates to 1999, when he and Juan Pablo Montoya duked-it-out for the Championship Auto Racing Teams crown. Franchitti, driving for Team Green, and Montoya finished the regular season tied with 212 points. JPM, driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, was awarded the title based upon his seven wins compared to Dario’s three.

“Between 2000 and 2002 I think we were in the championship battle until the last race,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Dallara/Honda fielded by car-owner Chip Ganassi. “And then sort of 2005 we were reasonably competitive. We just had crappy luck. When 2007 came along and we really had a serious challenge after that, that was a good feeling. Obviously, did that again last year. It was nice to finally get those championship wins after years of winning a lot of races but not closing the championships out.”

Franchitti claimed the 2007 title in the season-finale at Chicagoland Speedway as a member of Andretti Green Racing, now known as Andretti Autosport, by 13 points over Ganassi’s Scott Dixon. Last year, Franchitti marked his return to IndyCar with Ganassi following a failed bid with Chip’s NASCAR organization by winning the championship over Dixon by 11 points.

With that background, Franchitti said he plans to approach Saturday night’s 200-lapper on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval quite logically.

“We know how to get the job done. The guys at Team Target know how to win it, too,” Franchitti said. “We’re not going to go out and change our game plan. We’re going to go out to win the race. We’ve got to make up the points. We’ve got to get a 13-point advantage, which is not going to be easy, but we think we’ve got the equipment to do it. We know how to do it. So we’ve been talking a lot this week about the ins-and-outs and the championships and the points.”

Mike Hull, managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, said Franchitti’s in-the-belly fire has burned non-stop since his return to open-wheel racing.

“I think the fact that his desire to win races and he understands that desire with compounding wins leads to championships is the common denominator with him throughout his career,” Hull said. “We were lucky enough that he was available to drive for us last year. It was actually our first opportunity to work with him in an Indy-car.  And from the very first day, it’s very easy to understand that not only why he’s able to win races. But what I like about him is the fact that he understands how important it is for the direction that he’s going and from the direction he’s come.

“And he has a great degree of respect for motor racing. I think when you respect motor racing or what it’s meant to all of us, and you combine that with the challenge of power, then you find a very rare individual like Dario to lead you to winning championships.”

Indeed, whether it’s competing in the Indianapolis 500 or the season-ender, Franchitti always looks forward to the next race. “The first Indy 500 (win in 2007) was amazing and to win that championship in the last corner of the last lap was pretty exciting,” the Scotsman said. “To come back last year and win (the championship) again was something. It’s always about the next race though, isn’t it? It’s all about what we can do this next race.”

A third championship would allow Franchitti to tie Sam Hornish Jr.’s series record, while Team Penske’s Power is chasing his first title. Franchitti, who will make his 101st IndyCar Series start at HMS, has won on two ovals and the Mid-Ohio natural terrain-road course in amassing 575 points through 16 races.

“It’s a team effort, and every team I’ve ever been with it’s been the same thing,” said Franchitti, who is paired with engineer Chris Simmons. “It’s the communication between the driver and the engineer, but it’s the ability of every single person at the track and back in Indy who are working constantly trying to make these things just a little better here and there. It’s the guys building the cars, the attention to detail. It’s the guys in pit lane, just no mistakes. It takes all that to get you in this position. We see how costly a mistake can be, whether it’s a mistake in pit lane or a mistake on the track.”

Aside from a broken gearbox at Iowa Speedway, which deposited him in 18th place, Franchitti has finished out of the top-10 in only one other race – 12th on the Streets of Long Beach in mid-April.

“It’s getting more and more you have to have a perfect season to be in championship contention, and on those days it’s not going well you just have to make the best out of it,” said Franchitti, 37. “You want to win every race, but you have to accept some days you’re not just going to do it.”

Hull said Franchitti’s inner-drive – and his fierce Scottish pride – bar him from complacency.

“Personally, I just enjoy the fact that he doesn’t rest on anything that’s just happened,” said Hull, pointing to Franchitti’s second-place finish in the Indy Japan 300 at Twin Ring Motegi on Sept. 19. Franchitti finished one spot ahead of third-place Power in a race won by Penske’s Helio Castroneves.

“Dario has learned that the harder he works, the interest he has now earned on his investment is the fact that he can put all that experience together,” Hull said. “And that in itself for us represents the drivers that we had in the past, the drivers we have presently and the joy to work around a guy who just drives himself as hard as the guys that work on his car.”

Qualifying Friday for the Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300 IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 1.485-mile Homestead Miami Speedway, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, and speed:

1. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 213.187

2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 212.908

3. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 212.580

4. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 212.158

5. (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 211.933

6. (22) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 211.630

7. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 211.444

8. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 211.392

9. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 211.355

10. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 211.240

11. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 211.013

12. (8) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 210.928

13. (32) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 210.741

14. (34) Bertrand Baguette, Dallara-Honda, 210.738

15. (24) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 210.715

16. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 210.698

17. (67) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 210.671

18. (02) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 210.629

19. (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 210.520

20. (37) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 210.030

21. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 210.017

22. (19) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 209.443

23. (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 209.311

24. (36) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 209.308

25. (78) Simona de Silvestro, Dallara-Honda, 208.986

26. (06) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 208.579

27. (18) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 207.961

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, October 1 2010
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