Franchitti Says Pit Problem Was A Penske Problem

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 23 2011

Dario Franchitti salutes the crowd after winning at the Milwaukee Mile on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Dario Franchitti says pit road etiquette prevailed over “gamesmanship” Sunday afternoon at The Milwaukee Mile, where the Scotsman’s 29th career victory drew him into a tie with Will Power for the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series championship.

When Franchitti entered pit road on Lap 125 of Sunday’s Milwaukee 225, his left rear tire made contact with Power’s right front tire-changer and tire, a violation of the INDYCAR rulebook. Power’s crewman was standing atop the tire to give his driver a turn-in reference point. While ABC-TV’s crew speculated on a possible penalty for Franchitti, none was called by Brian Barnhart, the sanctioning body’s president of competition and racing operations.

As reported by the “Indianapolis Star,” Barnhart said: “After reviewing the situation, and taking into consideration all the circumstances, including the intent, the effect on competition and the effect on safety, race control officials in their discretion didn’t feel it was a violation worthy of a penalty.”

Franchitti addressed that key moment involving Team Penske’s Power – and reiterated his post-race criticism of Penske teammate Helio Castroneves – during a conference call Wednesday previewing Saturday night’s Iowa Corn Indy 250 at Iowa Speedway.

“I’ve looked at it on tape a number of times now because there’s obviously some questions about that,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Dallara/Honda fielded by Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “In the pit

Tires are laid out in anticipation of an IndyCar pit stop. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

lane, there is an etiquette, and it’s something that Brian Barnhart actually talked about in the drivers’ meeting and frequently does talk about it, especially in tight pit lanes like Milwaukee.

“And that is: The car, in the situation where we were, the car behind us was Will. Now, the etiquette is, if it’s not going to affect Will’s pit stop – which in both instances in the last two pit stops, it wasn’t – Will’s right front guy should lift the tire and allow me an easier entry into my pit box. And we, my right rear guy, would do the same for Will on the exit to allow him an immediate exit out of his pit box. And that’s something that goes on up and down pit lane; regardless if we have been fighting for championships or whatever, with the Penske guys, we have always done that with each other.

“For some reason on Sunday, in two stops, the tire was left out there. And that was, I believe, the reason there wasn’t a penalty because there was no need for the tire to be out there. And I think there was some gamesmanship going on there, which is not something we have seen from those guys before, and hopefully it’s the last we’ll see of it. Because if one starts doing it and the other starts doing it…pit lane is dangerous enough without playing stupid games like that.

“Second and third he (the crewman) didn’t move it. First one, I believe it wasn’t there, but the second and third, it was. And I believe it was a six-second difference between when I made my pit stop and when Will did, which is more than enough time to move it.”

Franchitti inherited the lead on Lap 199 around the historic facility in West Allis, Wis., when Castroneves was forced to pit to change a tire going flat. Franchitti went on to 1.4271-second victory over Graham Rahal of Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing.

On Sunday, Franchitti said he enjoyed racing against 2004 series champion Tony Kanaan, now driving for KV Racing Technology-Lotus, during the closing laps. But Franchitti panned “his Brazilian brother” – a reference to Castroneves – for moves he described as “crazy or obstructive” during a late-race double-file restart.

“I think Helio was actually…he was on the inside on a double-file restart, so, yeah, definitely, he was

Dario Franchitti and team-owner Chip Ganassi in Victory Lane at Milwaukee. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

correct. Took the whole back line,” Franchitti said. “And at that point, I was wrong. So I chose to go to the outside, and had a run on Helio and was alongside him and started to become further alongside him as he then saw me and swerved towards me on the outside. So I don’t change my view on that.

“You know, it’s something that we all grew up in series throughout the world. We all grew up in series where blocking was allowed for years. We watched guys like (seven-time Formula One World Driving Champion Michael) Schumacher do it. And then at some point, the IndyCar Series and Champ Car, actually, made a stance that blocking is no longer allowed; it spoils the race, blah, blah, blah.

“We have all had to adapt. And in a lot of cases, the first instinct is to block. But we have all managed to adapt, I would say. Helio has not really, and he continues to do it, and it’s frustrating. I kind of voiced my frustration after the race, and that has not changed – and it needs to stop.”

Franchitti’s 29th career victory tied him with Rick Mears for ninth on the all-time list, two shy of active co-leaders Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy. Recall that Franchitti’s victory in Race 1 of the inaugural Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11 moved him past three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth. Sunday’s outcome – Franchitti’s third win of 2011 – capped an historic eight-day span.

“I’m obviously very proud of all the wins, and I never thought I would get to this stage of having won 29 races now,” said Franchitti, who exited TMS 21 points behind Power. “Something I’m very proud of, and it still comes as a shock when they talk about guys like Johnny Rutherford and Rick Mears. When I first came over here I was driving for Carl Hogan. He (Mears) took me aside on my first day on the oval, and took me aside and said, ‘You don’t do it like that. You do it like this.’ He really was helpful. It’s kind of a strange feeling to be in the company of those two great drivers.

“When I tied with J.R. and then last week passed J.R. – I saw J.R. in the bus lot about one o’clock in the morning, and he just…he was driving past. He stopped and just shook my hand and said, ‘Well done.’ That was cool. So it’s a weird thing for me to be…to have those kind of numbers and to be around guys like J.R. and Rick. It doesn’t really compute, if you know what I mean.”

Franchitti and Rahal were joined on the podium by Oriol Servia, who recorded a season-high third-place result in his No. 2 Telemundo Dallara/Honda fielded by Newman/Haas Racing. Power –winner of Race 2 at TMS after a controversial blind draw set the field – advanced from a season-low 17th starting position Sunday to finish fourth. But by virtue of the three bonus points he earned for winning the PEAK Performance Pole Award and leading the most laps, Franchitti tied Power for the championship lead at 271 points heading into Newton, Iowa.

A three-time series champion, Franchitti has won at the 0.875-mile oval in the odd-number years (since 2007) that IndyCar has been visiting the Rusty Wallace-designed racetrack. Franchitti was leading the 250-lap race last year when a gearbox malfunction resulted in a season-low 18th-place finish.

“We were in good shape last year, too,” said Franchtti, who is chasing an unprecedented third consecutive series title and fourth overall. “We have to go there and do the job, and if we do the job we’ll be in a good situation. And, if we don’t, we move on.”

The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The race also will air live on the IMS Radio Network, SiriusXM Channel 94 and www.indycar.com.

Numbers worth noting following the Milwaukee 225, seventh of 17 events in the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season:

2 _ Positions gained in the championship standings by Graham Rahal with his runnerup finish in the No. 38 Service Central Dallara/Honda.

3 _ Different times Dario Franchitti led the race for a total of 161 laps. He took the lead for good on Lap 199.

4.0 _ Average finish for Dario Franchitti through the first seven events.

13 _ Positions gained by Will Power, who finished fourth in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Honda.

17 _ Drivers with at least one top-five finish…Points lead in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year chase for National Guard Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand over James Hinchcliffe of Newman/Haas Racing.

26 _ Drivers who have recorded at least one top-10 finish.

41 _ Consecutive races running at the finish for Danica Patrick of Andretti Autosport, extending her series record in the No. 7 Team GoDaddy Dallara/Honda.

117 _ Points for Dario Franchitti atop the A.J. Foyt Oval Championship standings. Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Dallara/Honda, is six points behind.

139 _ Consecutive races started by Tony Kanaan, who set the IndyCar Series record at The Milwaukee Mile in the No. 82 GEICO Dallara/Honda.

416 _ Laps-led in 2011 by Dario Franchitti, who has been on-point for 42.3 percent of the laps run so far.

983 _ Laps completed by Dario Franchitti in 2011. He is the only driver to complete every lap of every race.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 23 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Bobby Jones says:

    I’m not buying Dario’s or Brian’s explanation. It is a penalty and should have been applied. This is how IndyCar loses fans. They promote and protect drivers that are not worthy like Danica and popular drivers that make mistakes like Dario. The Penske guy didn’t throw the tire into Dario’s way – Dario could see it, it wasn’t moving – Dario hit the tire. It was legal and standard operating procedure for the tire to be there. Clear as day. Someone needs to tell Dario to stop talking for a while or quickly he’ll become the Simon Cowell of racing. He’s not the King of IndyCar. Someone needs to tell him that. I think over the last few weeks the fans are doing just that.