Reflective Franchitti Adds To Etchings Collection

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 23 2012

Dario Franchitti had emotional help in getting to Victory Lane at Indy last May. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The inspiration for Dario Franchitti’s third Indianapolis 500 victory in May was drawn from a pair of disparate sources – the memory of the late Dan Wheldon and “The Book of Johnny.”

The base of the BorgWarner Trophy – the most coveted award in worldwide motorsports – recently was removed from its permanent home at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum so a silversmith could add Franchitti’s face to the hardware, one of the spoils of his victory in the 96th Indianapolis 500. It marked the third time Franchitti’s face has been placed on the BorgWarner, as he also won the race in 2007 and 2010.

“I’m very proud to have my likeness on the BorgWarner Trophy for a third time,” said Franchitti, who will see the latest portrayal for the first time at a ceremony next month. “It’s a tremendous honor and I’m looking forward to receiving my Baby Borg in January in Detroit.”

Franchitti became the 10th driver with three or more Indy 500 wins on May 27, when he held off charges from Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan over the final five laps around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race, which featured a record 34 lead changes among 10 drivers, ended under caution when contact between Franchitti’s No. 50 Target Dallara/Honda and Sato’s No. 15 Rahal Letterman Racing Dallara/Honda on the white flag lap sent Sato’s car into the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier.

In Victory Circle, Franchitti looked skyward in a salute to Wheldon, a former Andretti Green Racing teammate who was killed in the season-ending event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011. Franchitti and wife Ashley Judd were joined on their victory lap around IMS by Susie Wheldon, Dan’s widow, who earlier in the week

Dan Wheldon celebrates his victory in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

had accepted the Champion of Champions ring and Baby Borg on behalf of her husband.

Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 and series champion, won his second Indy 500 in May 2011 in storybook fashion after leader and rookie J.R. Hildebrand of Panther Racing crashed in Turn 4 on the 200th and final lap.

“My best memory was after the (2011) race being disappointed, but then seeing Dan coming toward me doing his parade lap thing,” Franchitti said in an interview earlier this season. “And I thought, ‘I’m going to car-jack him. I’m going to pull him out of the car.’ And so he pulls up and he stops and he’s just so emotional and he’s just really crying. And I thought, ‘Nah, that wouldn’t be funny.’ I just gave him a big hug and told him how proud I was of him and let them go on their way. That was my favorite memory of the whole last year.”

Franchitti returned to IMS in May as four-time/reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion but hardly a pre-race favorite as the season’s first four events were won by drivers powered by Chevrolet’s 2.2-liter twin-turbocharged V-6. That’s when a three-time Indy 500 champion surfaced with a copy of “Lone Star J.R.: The Autobiography of Racing Legend Johnny Rutherford.”

“The first day of the month Johnny came up and gave me his book,” Franchitti said of Rutherford, the series’ official pace car driver. “He said, ‘I know you love the history of this sport and I wanted you to read this story.’ And I opened it and he put an inscription in it that said, basically, ‘Hope to welcome you to the three-time winner’s club very soon.’ And it was a good omen.”

That Indy 500 win proved to be the highlight of Franchitti’s 2012 season, which began with hopes of winning a fourth consecutive driver’s championship but ended with a seventh-place points finish. Franchitti earned three poles en route to five top-five and seven top-10 results in 15 races. The Scotsman finished the season with four top-three results, including second in the season-ender at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Franchitti’s likeness is the 99th added to the 76-year-old BorgWarner Trophy, commissioned in 1935 and unveiled in 1936. Each of the 98 winning drivers of the race is featured, including victorious co-drivers L.L. Corum and Joe Boyer in 1924 and Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose in 1941. A 24-karat gold likeness of Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., the Speedway’s late owner and president, also is on the trophy.

Including Franchitti, the 10 drivers appearing three or more times on the trophy are A.J. Foyt Jr. (1961, ’64, ’67 & ’77), Al Unser Sr. (1970, ’71, ’78, & ’87), Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, & ’91), Louis Meyer (1928, ’33, & ’36), Wilbur Shaw (1937, ’39, & ’40), Rose (1941, ’47, & ’48), Bobby Unser (1968, ’75, & ’81), Rutherford (1974, ’76, & ’80) and Helio Castroneves (2001, ’02, & ’09).

“Clearly, Dario Franchitti understands how to win at Indianapolis,” said Jeff Belskus, interim president/CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. “Adding his face to the trophy for the third time places him in very good company as one of the most successful drivers in the 500’s long history.”

Bridgestone Americas’ Firestone brand will remain the sole tire supplier to the IZOD IndyCar Series through the 2018 season.

“Firestone performance and safety have been synonymous with Indy-car racing for more than 100 years,” Al Speyer, executive director, Firestone Racing, said in a release. “We are excited about the opportunity to continue the ongoing success of this series by extending the Firestone brand’s history in the sport through the 2018 season. We treasure the relationships we have fostered with the league, drivers, owners and various other partners involved with the sport through the years and look forward to continuing our legacy of high-performance for which Firestone tires are known.”

Firestone has supplied tires to the IndyCar Series since the Indy Racing League’s inaugural season in 1996. The announcement confirms the Firestone brand’s participation in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. As part of the partnership extension, the Firestone brand will increase its commitment to and investments in the series to help maximize its growth potential.

The expanded agreement begins in 2014 and includes tires and technical support, investments in advertising, event promotions, at-track signage, hospitality, race title sponsorships and other programs. Specific details of the agreement and relationship will be announced next year.

Additionally, the title sponsorship and official tire status of the Firestone Indy Lights series will run through 2013.

“We are proud to continue our tradition of exceptional support for the IndyCar Series,” Speyer said. “One of our future aims is to help grow interest, so we look forward to welcoming a new generation of fans to the sport while at the same time energizing the existing loyal fan base. Fans are the true end customer for both INDYCAR and Firestone, and their engagement is fundamental to our mutual future success.”

The 2013 IndyCar Series schedule includes 19 races on 16 tracks with double-header weekends at Belle Isle Park in Detroit; in Toronto, Canada, and at Reliant Park in Houston. In addition to the partnership with the IndyCar Series, the Firestone brand will be the official tire of the race season kickoff _ the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Calif.

In keeping with tradition, Firestone will remain the Official Tire of the Indianapolis 500. Firestone also will continue as title sponsor of the Firestone 550k night race in June at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay’s postcard from the Race of Champions in Bangkok, Thailand, read as follows: “Learned lots. Had a great time.”

The reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion participated in the 25th annual event last weekend for stars from multiple motorsports disciplines from around the globe. Drivers competed in individual and team races in identical cars on an asphalt circuit with two parallel tracks and a crossover bridge inside Rajamangala Stadium.

Drivers in the ROC event were split into four groups of four, battling for the right to line up in the knockout stages. Hunter-Reay, of Andretti Autosport, won a heat race over Kazuya Ohshima, Japan’s qualifier from ROC Asia, but fell short in races against Formula One drivers Romain Grosjean of Team Lotus and Michael Schumacher, the seven-time World Driving Champion.

Grosjean, of France, went on to win the title of Champion of Champions by defeating 24 Hours of Le Mans legend Tom Kristensen of Denmark in the best-of-three final. Schumacher, the German ace who retired from his Mercedes AMG ride at season’s end, advanced to the semifinals.

In the ROC Nations Cup, Hunter-Reay teamed with Benito Guerra Jr. of Mexico, FIA’s Production World Rally Champion this season, on Team Americas. They won three heat races but did not advance out of the preliminaries. The German duo of Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel, the three-time/reigning F1 World Champion from Red Bull Racing, stormed to their sixth consecutive ROC Nations Cup title.

“(I) will be much better-prepared if I can come back next year,” Hunter-Reay said. “Big thanks to everyone behind the scenes for putting on such a spectacular event.”

Chip Ganassi Racing will field IndyCar Series drivers Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series’ season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona next month.

“This race is always exciting for me,” Ganassi said. “Because it is a 24-hour race there are so many factors that go into having success. You need the drivers, the people, the equipment and the partners, but most importantly they all have to act as one team and that is where I think our strength lies.”

Dixon and Franchitti – who each have won the overall race title in a Chip Ganassi Racing entry – will join NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray and BMW factory driver Joey Hand in the No. 02 Daytona Prototype.

“The Daytona 24 is something that we all do for fun,” Franchitti said. “It’s something that Chip loves to do, so we all sign-up to do it to give back to Chip for all that he does for us.”

Kimball, who will make his first start in the twice-around-the-clock endurance race, will join three-time defending Rolex Sports Car Series champions Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas and NASCAR star Juan Pablo Montoya in the team’s No. 01 DP entry.

American Conor Daly hopes his inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series test with A.J. Foyt Racing will develop into a long-term proposition. Daly tested with Foyt’s organization on the 1.65-mile Sebring International Raceway road-course on Dec. 13, two days before his 21st birthday.

The son of former Formula One and IndyCar driver Derek Daly, Conor recorded the ninth-quickest time of 15 car/driver combinations in Foyt’s Dallara/Honda.

“As an American, I would love to be in a red, white and blue car and I think ABC Supply would like to see an American as well, so I think that would be a good fit not maybe just next year but in the future,” Daly said. “They have (an unnamed) driver for next year in their main car so for me I’d like to help them as much as possible and learn because hopefully they would want to run a second car. Honestly, I would love to be in that second car.

“I’ve grown up around Indy-cars; I love Indy-cars with a passion. (Foyt Racing) really wants to get back to winning races, and that’s a huge thing to be a part of and I would love to be on that road with them.”

Daly, who won a Firestone Indy Lights race at Long Beach in 2011, competed in GP3 the past two seasons after winning the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear (seven victories in 12 races). The 2013 IndyCar Series season begins March 24 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., where Daly won in Star Mazda in 2010.

“We don’t really know yet what we can do (for 2013),” said Daly, referring to sponsorship. “We have had some great sponsors and supporters around us, but it will take more if we want to move up in Europe and also if we can do IndyCar. Europe has been awesome; I’ve learned a lot. But the financial backing is something that we don’t have to move to the next level.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, December 23 2012
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