Franchitti Loses Fenders, Wins A Race
By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Correspondent
Long Beach, Calif. – Even for a road racer, Dario Franchitti took a circuitous route to find victory lane in the streets of Long Beach. Driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, the Scotsman scored his first victory since his gambit to drive stock cars for Ganassi in NASCAR ended abruptly last summer.
Unable to locate backing for Franchitti, Ganassi pulled the plug on the sponsor-me-white Dodges in NASCAR. When the seat opened up at the IndyCar team after Dan Wheldon left in a contract dispute at the end of 2008, that paved the way for the Scotsman’s return to open-wheel racing.
“I didn’t expect to be a banger,” said Franchitti of the short-lived and largely unsuccessful NASCAR effort. “Chip and I went through some pretty hard times last year. We couldn’t find a sponsor. That was tough for both of us, because we’re used to having success. He lost a lot of money, I lost my ride and a lot of people lost their jobs.”
At the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Franchitti was in the right place at the right time. Twice his team called him into the pits just prior to yellows, putting his Dallara-Honda into the front when the other leaders came down the pit road from behind the safety car. The Scotsman, who started second, had the pace as well to stay ahead of pole winner Will Power’s Penske Racing Dallara-Honda, finishing 3.3182 seconds ahead at the checkers.
“I had a couple more seconds in the car if I needed it,” said Franchitti, who worked on saving fuel throughout the race but also turned the fastest race lap by a leader.
Ironically, Franchitti finished as a runner-up twice at Long Beach to Ganassi entries. “I remember following the rear wing of the Ganassi cars here,” he said, referring to victories by Alex Zanardi in 1998 and Juan Pablo Montoya in 1999.
The pit strategy did not go well for Power, who was running on full lean in second place in the late stages. “Trust me mate,” said Power, “I was driving as hard as I could go in the corners.”
Power’s tumultuous weekend continued Sunday in the No. 12 entry hastily pulled out for him when Helio Castroneves returned after acquittal in his tax evasion trial to drive Penske’s No. 3 entry. Electrical problems kept Power stalled on the pit road prior to the parade laps and his radio failed to work in the race, forcing him to rely on the pit board.
“I remained focused the whole time,” said Power, who pronounced himself very satisfied with his runner-up result. “Each session I took it as it came. If you keep working hard, you’ll get a bit of luck.”
Asked about getting out of the car until he returns to Penkse for the Indy 500 in May, the Aussie expressed some frustration for the first time. “It’s going to be tough. I’m just happy to have the opportunity.”
Castroneves finished seventh after what he called a very restful sleep Saturday night with his criminal trial behind him. “You know those butterflies you get in your stomach?” he said. “I didn’t have any of those last night.”
The Brazilian, who thanked fans at Long Beach for their positive support, had a look-in for the podium according to pit sequences before the final yellow fell. “That yellow caught us out,” he joked. “I’m already starting to talk like a race car driver, making excuses.”
Fourth-placed Danica Patrick made one slight excuse over missing the podium, saying it might have been different save for the blend line at the pit exit, where Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan got by for third prior to the final green segment. “I’m just happy to go from 22nd to fourth,” said Patrick, who spun on cold tires in qualifying.
Like Kanaan, Patrick relied on some changes to her Dallara after qualifying to improve on a miserable qualifying day for the AGR team.
Her race day got off to a good start when she came down the pit road at the same time as Franchitti prior to the first yellow. She said her results on the road and street circuits have suffered primarily because of qualifying. “I just can’t seem to pull out a lap in qualifying. The race pace hasn’t been that bad.”
Over-all, the weekend confirmed that reunifcation between the IRL and Champ Car has really taken hold one year after the final Champ Car race in Long Beach, not only because of an increase of ticket sales. “The buzz was amazing,” said Franchitti. “The crowds in the stands are getting bigger and bigger. The fans are really loving it.”
Unofficial results of Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach:
1. (10) Dario Franchitti
2. (12) Will Power
3. (11) Tony Kanaan
4. (7) Danica Patrick
5. (4) Dan Wheldon
6. (26) Marco Andretti
7. (3) Helio Castroneves
8. (2) r-Raphael Matos
9. (06) r- Robert Doornbos
10. (34) Alex Tagliani
11. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay
12. (02) Graham Rahal
13. (6) Ryan Briscoe
14. (14) Vitor Meira
15. (9) Scott Dixon
16. (23) Darren Manning
17. (98) r-Stanton Barrett
18. (20) Ed Carpenter
19. (5) Mario Moraes
20. (27) Hideki Mutoh
21. (24) r-Mike Conway
22. (18) Justin Wilson
23. (13) E.J. Viso
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