He’s a fine fellow Dario Franchitti, and a great racing driver who stands out as being Indycar’s biggest star. Dario’s role was underlined as he scored a masterful victory in this May’s 94th Indianapolis 500. He won his second Indy 500 in style, seizing the lead on the opening lap and running at the front for most of the race. The amiable Scot outpaced the trio of favoured Penske entries and anybody else who tried to do battle with him.
Franchitti is 37 and has been racing lndycars in America for 14 years. He gave NASCAR a try in 2008 before returning to the IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi’s team, and won last year’s championship after a close battle with team-mate Scott Dixon. At Indianapolis he started from the outside of the front row beside Penske men Helio Castroneves and Will Power. Franchitti made a cracking start shooting around the outside of Power in the first turn and then drafting by Castroneves to take the lead coming out of turn two. “At the start of the race Dario asserted himself,” says team owner Ganassi. “That kind of set the stage. That was very important for Dario in pounding his fist and staking his claim.”
Franchitti says he was ready to pounce at the start: “I knew the car was capable of making that move. It’s something I’ve done here before. When I got past Will, I thought ‘Fair enough.’ I was sitting on Helio’s gearbox and I thought ‘Damn, this is good!’ so I pulled on past him.”
Franchitti’s car was on the edge all the way. “In order to be quick here you have to be on the edge,” he explains. “You seldom drive around here and think, ‘This is quick and it’s easy.’ From the first lap today it wasn’t easy to drive. It was bouncing around in turn one as much as I’ve had a car move around here in the rear. I couldn’t fix that because the car was balanced in other corners. But it was fast. Everybody had a problem in traffic but we seemed to get through.
“My car was a handful, but it was a fast handful. It was particularly difficult in turn one. But it was a handful doing 223mph laps when other guys were doing 221s. We made one change through the race. That was it.”
Franchitti’s victory also means that Chip Ganassi becomes the first team owner to win both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. “All Chip wants to do is win,” says Dario. “If you’re not interested in that, if you take your eye off the ball, he lets you know. That’s all he cares about. (General manager) Mike Hull is the same. To be part of a team like this just makes your job so easy as a driver. You’re going to get beaten, absolutely. But you know everybody is on it all the time. That comes from the top down.”
Hull has praised Franchitti’s energy and open working relationship with team-mate Dixon. “We’ve got a guy who mentally is 20 years old in the body of a guy who has a ton of experience,” says Hull. “Dario just matches up so well for us and he’s always trying to make us better.
“We’ve had driver pairings over time who have been fantastic racing drivers, but these two guys that we have right now never, ever hide anything from the other driver. They never hold anything back and that’s the first time we’ve seen that at Chip Ganassi Racing. Dario puts what’s in his pocket on the table for Dixon, and Dixon puts on the table what’s in his pocket for Dario, and I think that makes a big difference.”
Franchitti later reflected warmly on his second visit to Victory Lane at Indianapolis. “That feeling when you drive into Victory Lane and you see some of your family… My dad was here and (my wife) Ashley, as well as some of my family from Nashville and my friends from Scotland and my team. It’s cool, man. That’s it, right there. You get out and you get to drink the milk. That’s what it’s all about.”