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Appreciating Dario Franchitti

In his understated way, Dario Franchitti scored one of the great achievements of the 2012 motor racing season when he won the Indianapolis 500 for the third time in the past six years.

That feat put him in the company of the likes of Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Mauri Rose, Wilbur Shaw and Louis Meyer. Dario also won a string of three IndyCar championships from 2009-11 and has established himself in recent years as the gold standard of Indycar racing.

At Indianapolis, Franchitti led team-mate Scott Dixon across the line in a resounding 1-2 for Chip Ganassi’s team. Early in the 500 Dario survived an incident in the pits with EJ Viso, half-spinning after Viso clouted him, but came back through the field in company with Dixon to race for the win at the end. Without doubt, it was as fine as any performance we saw in motor racing in 2012.

indycar  Appreciating Dario Franchitti

The rest of Dario and Dixon’s season didn’t go anything like as well as Ganassi’s Honda engines struggled to compete on power and reliability with the Chevrolets of Penske and Andretti. Dixon won in dominant style at Belle Isle in Detroit the week after the 500 with Franchitti finishing second. Dixon scored an equally dominant win at Mid-Ohio in August but there wasn’t much more to write for either of Ganassi’s drivers.

Dixon hung on in the championship battle but in the end neither Dixon nor Franchitti were serious factors.The title was fought out by Ryan Hunter-Reay for Andretti Autosport and Will Power for Penske.

Will Franchitti, Dixon and Ganassi’s team bounce back next year? It all depends on Honda’s ability to make its single turbo 2.2 litre V6 compete on equal terms with Chevrolet’s twin turbo V6. Drivers, team and engine manufacturer showed what they can do at Indianapois this year, so there’s reason to believe they will respond to the challenge in 2013.

Meanwhile, Franchitti has proven he’s a truly great driver. He’s smooth, precise and thoroughly involved technically. Dario works very closely with his engineer Chris Simmons, a former Indy Lights driver, and Franchitti and Dixon also work closely together in a completely open way as true team-mates.

indycar  Appreciating Dario Franchitti

As everyone knows, Dario also loves the sport’s history. Among so many of today’s disinterested professional drivers, he’s a rare student of racing. Franchitti loves racing for what it is and can’t imagine retiring. He expects to race Indycars for a few more years at least and looks ahead to racing sports cars into his forties. He’s done quite a bit of ALMS with Honda and Acura LMP1 and P2 cars and has always harboured an ambition to win Le Mans. And as he says, beyond that there’s always vintage racing.

Dario is a much more well-rounded driver than most contemporary F1 stars. He deserves our accolades just as much, if not more than the likes of Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton. Dixon is also a first-rate racing driver, although he’s even more understated than Franchitti. Chip Ganassi knows he’s fortunate to have two excellent drivers who work together as one.

New IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay came on strong through the middle and end of the season after being out of luck at Indianapolis where he qualified on the front row but dropped out early in the 500 with a blown engine. But Hunter-Reay won three races in a row in July and August and beat Will Power to the championship with a clean, smart drive in the final race, a 500-miler at the high-banked California Speedway where Power ended the year against the wall.

indycar  Appreciating Dario Franchitti

Hunter-Reay is one of many drivers whose career was not served well by the long-running CART/IRL war. It’s taken him ten years and half a dozen teams to finally arrive as a champion with Michael Andretti’s multi-car operation and I have no doubt that Ryan and Andretti Autosport will be hard to beat next year in company with Power and Penske’s team.

Other potential winners next year include last year’s top rookies Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden while Graham Rahal has moved to his father’s team where he hopes to turn his obvious potential into results. In the prime of his career at 39, Franchitti will face plenty of competition next year.

Add your comments

11 comments on Appreciating Dario Franchitti

  1. IM, 3 December 2012 12:49

    Too bad they are all driving spec cars in front of tiny audiences. Two facts that are not unconnected.

  2. Ian Taylor, 3 December 2012 14:18

    “Plenty of competition” makes for great racing.
    Dario will hopefully distance himself in 2013 from PT and Seabass who tie Dario at 31 for alltime wins.
    As we know Seebass won when he was racing “The little sisiters of the poor ” as the competition had moved over from CART to IRL
    It would appear that Dario now has come to grips with the DW1 and will be more competitive in 2013

  3. Andre, 3 December 2012 15:57

    IM: The sad fact of the matter is that, with a few exceptions (F1, NASCAR, and sports cars), the vast majority of racing series are ‘spec’ series these days. Building race cars that are competitive and meet all of the modern safety standards has become very, very expensive. When Indycar accepted proposals for the new car a few years ago, with a specified cost ceiling to make the cars affordable to most of the existing teams, all of the manufacturers who applied said they could meet the cost ceiling only if they were supplying the entire field — without being able to spread the development and manufacturing costs across 20+ cars, they would have to sell chassis at a loss to stay within the cost cap.

    It’s a Catch-22 situation: The series would like the additional interest and (hopefully) exposure that having multiple chassis manufacturers would bring, but can’t afford the cost of multiple manufacturers based on current sponsorship levels. Sponsorship is unlikely to improve unless the series can generate additional interest.

    On the subject of ‘spec’ cars, ever-tightening rules mean that even F1 has lost most of its variety. Yes, the cars are still designed and manufactured independently, but between a huge number of restrictions set by the FIA (even specifying the exact dimensions of some portions of the car) and wind tunnel data on getting the best downforce/drag ration while working within those restrictions, all the cars end up extremely similar — I doubt most of us could tell the difference between many of them if it weren’t for the paint jobs.

  4. Ray T, 3 December 2012 15:58

    I realize Motorsport really, really loves Franchitti, but the comments like, “Dario is a much more well-rounded driver than most contemporary F1 stars” really needs to be justified.

    He’s doing well in series that have HUGE competition problems, at a team that is dominant in those series. Modern F1 drivers have a fuller schedule than ever before, and cannot race outside F1 by time or by contract. Well rounded is Kimi Raikonnen. NASCAR, rally, F1. I doubt Franchitti has Raikonnen’s talent.

    I really like Franchitti, he’s the only reason I watch Indycars, and he loves the sport, but scale back on the hyperbole, please.
    One thing that kind of bothers me is his TV camera references to Dan Wheldon. It borders on exploitative.

  5. Michael Kavanagh, 3 December 2012 16:42

    I often wonder how Franchitti would have fared in F1. Indeed, I often wonder why he’s never been in a position to do it. Perhaps others know why?

  6. Alex Harmer, 3 December 2012 16:46


    I believe he was offered a testing contract with McLaren but went to America so he could race. Once he started winning over there and built a life, he figured he might as well stay put. Can’t argue with that logic!


  7. Hotdogger, 3 December 2012 16:54

    Dario is a good guy and a decent racer but I just think that the depth of Indycar’s talent pool is really shallow compared to the days back when it was ‘the’ racing series of America. Just look at how he, Hornish and Montoya fared in NASCAR. All champions and Indy winners yet struggled to run in the top-15 on most occasions.

  8. Carl, 3 December 2012 17:31

    Team owner Chip Ganassi and his star driver both often work behind the scene rather than act always honestly and openly.
    Ganassi apparently wants to control Indycar and almost certainly is the owner who leveraged his (considerable) weight and had Randy Bernard fired without reason.
    Franchitti has mastered the subtle arts of gently punting others into spins or the tirewall and not allowing racing room to competitors.
    There’s no denying that both men have the ability to prevail without resort to deceitful fraudulence.

  9. chris b, 3 December 2012 19:37

    Dario, is a great racer who, had the ability to be a F1 champion, the whole thing was messed up, perhaps by Jaguar or by Stewart or by Mclaren, perhaps Gordon a footnote on what happened with F1 might help, but this guy knows how to race [fairly] and win even more fairly, he is a worthy inclusion into anyone’s top 10 racers this year, what I and many others feel is that, not only the above but he has a perspective of the past as well, driving Jimmy’s 1965 Lotus 38 was a sheer joy, good on yer Dario – keep on racing mate

  10. bkwanab, 4 December 2012 03:56

    I hate to burst Andre’s bubble but NASCAR is the ultimate spec racing. Even the bodies are the same. Only the stickers are different. The racing was different, and better, when the drivers competed in steel cars with real chrome horns (bumpers) and knew they could die or be seriously injured if some idiot put them into the wall. Mercurys, Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Fords and Chevys and even AMCs and Studebakers were driven to victory lane. when real drivers drove real cars. Now they’re just dodgem drivers. And they don’t dodge very well either.

  11. dave cubbedge, 4 December 2012 17:33

    One can’t compare what a open-wheeled driver does in NASCAR because the cars are so different in about every way other than they have wheels. NASCAR designed the COT so the teams would have a difficult time dialing the car in. Most of the time NASCAR drivers are compensating for deficiencies in the handling of the car, and it is a beast that changes every 20-30 laps. No surprise that Indy and former F1 drivers struggle with stock cars.

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