Dario Franchitti: He’d drunk the milk and done the interviews, but only after some sober reflection the next day did the full impact of his Indy 500 win dawn on him
I’ve won the Indy 500! I don’t want that to sound arrogant. That’s not how it’s meant. Far from it: it’s been a truly humbling experience. I’ve said it here because I still don’t believe it. Perhaps I will when I read this page in my copy of Motor Sport, a magazine I grew up with.
There was a moment on the Monday morning after the race when it began to hit me. By then, I’d already drunk the milk in Victory Lane and done almost four hours of interviews and live TV. I finished at 11pm, but still found time to celebrate – six more hours in fact, which wasn’t such a good idea when my first scheduled appointment with the media was at 8am the next morning. But what the hell! You can’t finish the day you win Indy by going to bed early, can you?
I wasn’t feeling my best, I’ll admit, but it was worth it. The day was gruelling and it reminded me of something Scott Dixon had said after the race: “Tomorrow you’ll realise which part of this job you get paid for, and that in reality you race for free.”
But the moment, for me, came at about 11am: the traditional photo shoot of the car, me, the garland and the trophy on the yard of bricks at the start/finish line. For the first hour I was standing in the cockpit as the team, sponsors, pit crew, family and so on came along for shots. I must have worn more than a hundred caps and shaken hundreds of hands. Then came the time for me to stand with the trophy for the next set of shots.
This is going to sound crazy, but I had never before looked at the trophy – even though this had been my fifth Indy 500. I think it’s bad luck to look at a trophy before a race. You’ll often see me with my hands over my eyes in drivers’ meeting so that I can’t see it. That’s why that Monday morning hit me hard. I stopped, finally looked at the Borg-Warner Trophy, saw the faces and names on it, and realised that I will be there next year, that I’m going to be on the same Indy 500 trophy as Jim Clark. That’s a moment I had dreamed about.
Clark was my hero when I grew up. He died before I was born, but I’ve read a lot about him. And when I drove for Paul Stewart Racing in Formula Vauxhall and F3, Jackie Stewart was my boss and he told me a lot about Jim, too. 2005 was the 40th anniversary of his Indy win and I wanted to win that particular 500 more than anything. It didn’t happen [Dario finished sixth after leading 15 laps] and that was a disappointment, because I really could have done it that year.
I had a quick car again this year, but I was fifth when the rain stopped the race on lap 113. My Andretti Green team-mates were 1-2-3, with my great friend Tony Kanaan in first. I’m sure they wanted the race to be stopped there and then. And I would have been happy for the team. But I knew I had a car that was better than fifth.
When the race restarted after a three-hour delay, I had a cut in a tyre and had to pit. That put me on a different strategy to the rest, but by then I had a rocket ship of a car. I charged from 14th. It was great. I could reel them in, pass safely, move up to the next one…
You know, of course, how it ended. So please forgive me for using this space to acknowledge what this win means to me.
As a Scotsman, Jackie Stewart has not only been my team boss in days gone by, he’s a hero, too. He called me during practice to ask how it was going. I told him this and that, and he made a suggestion. We did it – and it worked! He’s been out of the cockpit for more than 30 years, but he’s still got it.
For me, though, Jim Clark is the man. He has been a role model to me. I’m in the process of renovating a house, and whereas before I would have racing stuff all over the place, this time I’m limiting it to one room: a Jim Clark-themed bathroom. I even went to buy some tiles – for the first and only time, I promise you. They had to match the colour of Jim’s crash helmet. That’s a tough blue to find, trust me.
Winning at Indianapolis truly is a moment to savour. As a kid, my younger brother Marino and I had a Bobby Rahal poster from Indy on our bedroom wall. Never in a million years did I think I’d get to drink the milk as he did. I dreamed and hoped – but never thought it would happen.
Yet here I am, still pinching myself, in Motor Sport as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.Two privileges in one. Who would have thought it?