Like Last year, the 2011 IndyCar Championship has been a season-long duel between Dario Franchitti and Will power. As I write, with three races to go Franchitti leads power by a slender five points having won four races to his six. If the Scot takes the championship it will be his third IndyCar crown in a row and the fourth consecutive win for Chip Ganassi’s team as well as its ninth title in 16 years – pretty impressive by any standards. if power wins it will be his first championship and Team Penske’s 13th, the last one going to Sam Hornish in 2006.
Competitive as Franchitti and team-mate Scott Dixon have been in most of this year’s races, Dario believes their strongest season to date was 2009, his first with Ganassi. “We were strong everywhere then,” he explains. “We felt we could have won almost every race. Last year wasn’t as good. We struggled on road and street courses, where we were a little down on performance.
“We started this year well, winning at St Pete, but at Barber we weren’t quite there. We were strong on the ovals but in a road course test at Sebring in June Scott found some stuff he liked.”
The pair also dominated this year’s Indianapolis 500, with one or the other leading most of the way only to be confounded and disappointed by fuel and strategy errors made in both qualifying and the race. “We’ve won a lot of races this year for a lot of different reasons,” says Franchitti. “Indy was very disappointing. It was definitely not a high point.”
Franchitti emphasises how difficult it is to run a perfect race. “The tough thing about racing in general is whether it’s the driver or the team, everybody’s striving for perfection all the time. It takes perfection in all departments to win a race.”
Dario adds that the 2009 Indy 500 was almost identical. “We had the speed and the boxes checked in ’09. We both led a bunch of laps but we had bad pit stops. This year we had the same thing. We had super strong cars but mistakes were made.”
Franchitti and Dixon enjoy a close working relationship as team-mates and friends. “When I came here in 2009 my biggest worry was having had a year away,” says Dario. “I thought, ‘Will I be able to compete with Scott?’ he had just dominated the 2008 Championship and Indy. He’d blown everybody’s doors off and I thought it was going to be tough.
But I was able to hold my own and contribute, and I think on the ovals and even on the road courses Scott taught me a lot. “It’s interesting because some of that stuff Scott learned from Dan [Wheldon]. It’s kind of circular. I taught Dan some stuff and he learned some stuff on his own that he taught Scott. And on the street courses I was able to give Scott my way of setting the car up and driving it. Week in, week out we’re pushing each other.”
This is the last year for IndyCar’s outdated Dallara-Honda spec car and the Ganassi duo hope the new 2012 Dallara will have the performance to help rejuvenate Indycar racing. “I hope it’s got more power and more of that kick in the back we used to have with the turbos,” says Franchitti. “Obviously we want it to be a safer car, but certainly we want it to be faster.”
Dixon stresses the importance of making sure the car is more raceable. “the cars need to be trickier to drive in a racing situation,” he says. “at some tracks at the end of the race you’re running pretty close to your qualifying speed and there should be a performance drop-off for the driver to deal with. That’ll also make the racing more exciting. the new car has got bigger tunnels which is good because that should help the racing.”
“Scott’s right,” adds Dario. “as much as we want them to be a beast to drive, it’s the racing aspect that’s the most important thing – that the cars can race together.”
Everyone hopes for the best from next year’s car. The drivers and fans have made it clear they want to see something better, more raceable and more spectacular. We hope it happens.