Franchitti Out Of Hospital

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 10 2013

Dario Franchitti injured during the IndyCar Series race in Houston was released from the hospital on Thursday.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti was released from Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center in Houston Thursday, five days after suffering multiple injuries in a grinding crash during Race2 of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader.

Franchitti was scheduled to travel to Indianapolis, where he will be re-evaluated over the next few days and ultimately await a second surgery on his right ankle, which was stabilized during surgery Sunday evening. Franchitti was admitted into the hospital on Sunday afternoon after a last-lap crash on the temporary street course at Reliant Park and diagnosed with a concussion, two spinal fractures and the fracture to his right ankle.

“I’m overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and I’m thankful to have such a great family and such wonderful friends and fans,” said Franchitti, a four-time series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner. “Thanks to everyone at the hospital and the track who took such good care of me during my stay in Houston.”

The IZOD IndyCar Series season will conclude with the MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Oct. 19. The 2013 driver’s championship will be determined between Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves over 250 laps around the 2-mile speedway. Dixon, a two-time series champion, will take a 25-point lead into the weekend with Alex Tagliani, formerly of Barracuda Racing, subbing for Franchitti.

“I look forward to watching Scott, Alex and the Target team next weekend on television, and will be pulling for them as they go for another championship,” Franchitti said in a statement.

Dixon must finish fifth or better to clinch _ even if Castroneves earns maximum points. A total of 54 points will be on the table in Southern California. Dixon and Castroneves are the only drivers eligible to win the 2013 championship.

Dixon said during an IndyCar Series teleconference Thursday afternoon that Franchitti was “pretty beat-up” but pleased to be heading back to Indianapolis.

“I know he’s got control of his phone again, so that’s a good sign,” Dixon joked. “You know, he seems to be in good spirits. I know he wants to come out to Fontana and support the team, so we’ll see how his recovery goes and see what choice he makes on coming out to the West Coast. But very lucky and just sad that he’s not going to be my teammate come next weekend to try and finish this out. Personally, I would have liked Dario to be there next weekend and to be in fighting spirits and helping me win the championship. But it’s nice to know that Dario is doing OK.”

Dixon termed open-wheel veteran Tagliani as a “solid choice” to be his one-off teammate in Franchitti’s No. 10 Dallara/Honda.

“As a team, the drivers and myself, we don’t have much control in situations like that,” said Dixon, a four-time race-winner this season in the No. 9 TCGR Dallara/Honda. “But I think Chip and (managing director) Mike (Hull) and (team managers) Barry (Wanser) and Scott (Harner) and everybody, I think they picked the best guy.

“I’m great friends with Tag. We hang out a fair bit, and it makes it an easy transition. And obviously last year Alex was very fast at Fontana until he had a mechanical issue and exited the race, but he was running, I think, in first or second position for most of the later parts of it. So welcome to the team. As I said, he’s a good friend and a hell of a competitor, and he’s going to be tough to beat there next weekend, I think.”

Tagliani started 16h and finished 20th last Sept. 15 at Fontana after the engine in his No. 98 Dallara/Honda blew with 20 laps left. The Canadian led three times for 21 laps en route to completing 229 laps. In four starts at Fontana (2000-2002, 2012), Tagliani has one pole (2001), one top-three (third, 2001) and three top-10 finishes. Overall, he has completed 945 of 970 laps and has 22 laps-led at the track.

Castroneves later noted on the call that he had done some “joking around” with Franchitti via email without an immediate response.

“But we understand he probably was on medication,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 AAA Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. “But since finally he was able to answer to all of us, he mentioned that he is on a lot of painkillers so he’s not feeling so much. But we are very glad that _ I mean, it could be more serious than that. Unfortunately he’s in this situation, but he will have time to recover and not miss any races for next year.”

Team Penske announced Wednesday it will add A.J. Allmendinger to its regular lineup featuring Castroneves and Will Power in a bid to clinch both the driver’s and manufacturer’s titles. Chevrolet and Honda-powered cars each have scored nine wins this season.

Franchitti’s car was sent airborne and pin-wheeling into a catch-fence after making contact with the out-of-shape rear end of Takuma Sato’s car in Turn 5 on the final lap, spewing debris into the grandstands and onto the track.

INDYCAR, the series’ sanctioning body, has been addressing the issue of cars taking flight since a multiple car wreck during the October 2011 season-ender at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway killed two-time/reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon. The Dallara DW12 chassis developed by Wheldon during the summer of 2011 was designed specifically to prevent cars from being launched by wheel-to-wheel contact.

“I know a lot of the areas that were worked on the car were obviously the rear bumpers and trying to stop cars from running over each other front-and-back,” Dixon said. “The side sort of stuff is a little more difficult, then with the addition of Turn 5 at Houston with the very off-camber crowned sort of road, and then typically the speed and the way the car sort of collected, it’s going to be a tough one to improve them greatly in a short period of time. How they’d achieve that, I’m not too sure. I think on the other hand what the car went through and how Dario’s crash sort of played-out _ you know, he was lucky. But the car did exactly what it should have, and a lot of the side intrusion things were vastly improved, which I think helped a lot. Having seen the car after the wreck, it’s done its job.

“It’s going to be an ever-evolving side of racing in general and side to IndyCar racing to try and improve these situations and make them better. Will you ever stop them? Probably not. That’s the reality of cars racing very fast and achieving very high speeds in confined spaces. I think we definitely saw the advantages of some of the safety things that have been added to the cars throughout the years, and INDYCAR is as always ever-pushing on and trying to make them safer, and they are.

“That’s the positive side of it. But still reality, man. It’s racing, fast cars, and some tricky positions sometimes.”

Castroneves reiterated the Dallara chassis driven by Franchitti, Sato and E.J. Viso “did the job.”

“It’s interesting,” Castroneves said. “Unfortunately, incidents at Indianapolis in the past, some of the road-courses we had it, just kind of the angle that you hit. It could be much worse. The car could probably go outside of the fence in those circumstances if your car didn’t have that kind of bumper. It did the job, not only protecting the car from going away from the track but also protect the driver, as well. And, again, we might try to (re-)design a little bit of the racetrack, because that corner itself was already difficult by ourselves.”

Castroneves said INDYCAR officials made the right call when they opted to cancel qualifying on a wet track Sunday morning and set the field for Race 2 via entrant points.

“I’m glad actually they listened to the drivers saying the wet qualifying would have been extremely dangerous,”  Castroneves said. “Sometimes we’ve got to look at how we position the design of the track, the layout. You’re trying to become too creative, and it doesn’t matter, the safest car in the world could be an issue. That’s my personal opinion. We should at least change that kind of straightaway, which is not a straightaway so that we don’t have that kind of scenario, so if Takuma got sideways and slowed down and Dario was coming really fast and crashed.

“Those perfect storms sometimes are difficult unless we change the track. I’m glad that nobody was seriously injured.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 10 2013
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