Franchitti Has Three Things On His Mind

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 27 2011

Dario Franchitti would like put his likeness on the Borg Warner Trophy for a third time on Sunday. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Indianapolis – Dario Franchitti loves spending time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum.

It’s a visit he makes every year early in the month of May, before things get too busy and complicated on and off the 2.5-mile oval.

Mostly, Franchitti loves to see the old cars and bask in the history of the Brickyard. But, every now and then, he will take a peek at the Borg Warner Trophy and look for the image of his face, which appears twice on the Indy 500 winners’ trophy.

“This place has an incredible history,’’ Franchitti said. “This is the Centennial year and just about anybody who is anybody in racing has been here, one way or another.

“It’s a real honor to be part of that history.’’

The dashing Scot could make more Indy history on Sunday by becoming a three-time winner and becoming only the sixth driver to win here in back-to-back years.

It’s all pretty humbling for the quiet, unassuming Scot.

“I didn’t expect the type of success (I’ve had),’’ Franchitti said. “I hoped for it, but I didn’t

Dario Franchitti has big history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

expect it. But it’s been very nice.

“Getting pushed along here by my teammate (Scott Dixon), just the way the (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) team goes about things, yeah, it’s been really good. We had a great time last year winning again, but we are looking at this race now.’’

Although he came to American racing in the 1990s with the “big potential’’ label firmly attached to his name, the 38-year-old Franchitti didn’t achieve the kind of success that was forecast for him until the latter part of his career.

His three IZOD IndyCar Series titles and two Indy victories have all come in his 30s.

Franchitti exudes cool in his appearance and in the way he approaches racing, but Dixon and team owner Ganassi both say appearances can be deceiving.

“Dario is a great teammate because he is willing to share just about everything,’’ Dixon said. “But, if you’re racing him head-to-head, look out. He has a burning desire to win.’’

“He is much more competitive than you would think by looking at him,’’ Ganassi noted. “The guy still has a fire in his belly.’’

Sunday, he will take that competitive fire onto the biggest stage of the IndyCar season. And, starting a disappointing ninth in the 33-car field, Franchitti will have to do some hard work to become the 10th driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’’ three times or more.

The leadup to the race has not gone as well as Franchitti had hoped, though.

Despite a rainy month that limited practice time, Franchitti was among the leaders on

Dario Franchitti walks off the track after running out of fuel during qualifying for the 2011 500.

the speed chart and expected to have a shot at the pole, or at least a front row start.

Instead, the Ganassi team made an uncharacteristic mistake and Franchitti ran out of fuel on the last lap of his four-lap qualifying run, relegating him to the third row of the race grid.

It was an agonizing moment for Franchitti, who walked away from the pits with his helmet on, refusing to stop for the requisite interviews.

“I didn’t want to talk to anybody or speak to anybody or listen to anybody,” he said later. “I just wanted to go away for a minute. I didn’t have anything positive to say and I was very angry.”

But drivers have won Indy from a lot farther back than ninth and Franchitti has put the qualifying debacle behind him.

Still, Indy is a difficult race under any circumstances – a long 200 laps.

“Any race is difficult,’’ Franchitti said. “Any race you’re required to do everything right. This place is exactly the same.

“You’ve got to do all the pit stops right, you’ve got to make all the right moves on the track in traffic on your own, you’ve got to have a fast car and a little bit of luck. Millions of things have got to go right to finish this race.’’

He added, thanks to the nearly constant rains this month, no one has had a lot of time to figure out the best race setup for their car.

“The start of the race is more of a gamble maybe because you haven’t had those multiple days to just tweak on the setup,’’ Franchitti added. “In some ways you’re going into an unknown, plus it looks like the temperature is going to be warmer. It looks like it’s going to be above 85 degrees for the first time all month.

“Those are all going to be factors, but somebody is going to hit on that perfect setup and they’ll be very fast – and I hope it’s us.’’

If he does win again, that will just make his next visit to the speedway’s museum a little sweeter.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 27 2011
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