Chip Ganassi (above with Franchitti) announced on Tuesday that Dario Franchitti will replace Dan Wheldon in his Indycar team next year. Ganassi had decided to drop Wheldon (below) after a disappointing year and move Franchitti from his NASCAR team to his IRL squad. Wheldon sealed his fate by qualifying in the middle of the field at Detroit last weekend, then crashing out of the race. Wheldon will move to the Panther team next year where Vítor Meira is team leader.
Franchitti has endured his own struggles this year in his rookie NASCAR season but when Ganassi looked around to consider who the best choice was to replace Wheldon, the answer was obvious. Ganassi first tried to hire Tony Kanaan, but the Brazilian used the approach to help negotiate a new five-year contract with Andretti-Green Racing where he is the clear number one driver. Kanaan’s move left the door wide open for Franchitti to make the decision to return to Indycar. Dario visited last weekend’s IRL race at Detroit and spent most of his time with Ganassi’s team, so his move back to open-wheel racing seemed imminent.
“It is going to be very exciting to have Dario in one of our Indycars next year,” said Ganassi. “I have always admired his competitive spirit when he raced against us and have really grown to see more of what he is about this season while he raced in NASCAR. When there was a possibility of an opening on our Indycar team, the only person I thought about was Dario. This is going to be a great move for Dario and for our team.”
Franchitti said: “Part of the reason that I signed with Ganassi last year was because of how many options that Chip has at his disposal for a driver. You can do almost any form of racing that you want. With unification and the new [Indycar] schedule having more road and street courses, it made me think about this more and more. I have really enjoyed this last season in stock cars and have not completely closed that chapter of my professional career, but the opportunity that arose was just something I could not pass up. I am really looking forward to getting behind the wheel of one of those Target cars and being a team-mate to Scott Dixon. Target is a tremendous sponsor and they and Chip always give you everything you need to win.”
Next season will be the 20th year that Target Stores has been the primary sponsor of Ganassi’s multi-faceted race team. With former Indy 500 winner and IRL champion Franchitti returning to Indycar racing beside this year’s championship hopeful Scott Dixon, Chip’s Indycar team should enjoy a high-profile role in celebrating Target’s anniversary. And for both Dario and Indycar racing as a whole, the ’07 Indy 500 winner’s return to the series should serve as a healthy shot in the arm.