Dario Franchitti is happy to be back running at the front of IndyCar racing after a year in the wilderness in NASCAR. The Scotsman confirmed that he’s going to be a top IRL championship contender this year by scoring a decisive win in the streets of Long Beach last Sunday. Franchitti started from the outside of the front row but made a poor getaway before working his way to second behind early leader Will Power. A keen pitstop call by Franchitti’s team during the race’s first full-course yellow enabled Dario to get out of the pits ahead of Power who drove a faultless race without a radio to finish second ahead of Tony Kanaan.
“I made a terrible start and Justin (Wilson) and (Raphael) Matos passed me,” Franchitti reported. “But I knew the car was quick and I got past both of those guys and we were running second to Will. The tyres were performing well and the car felt really good. The guys pitted me early and we got track position on Will and during that second stint we were saving fuel.”
Dario made the point that fuel-saving means you have to simply drive the wheels off the car. “People think when you’re saving fuel you’re driving slowly, but you’re not because you’re actually braking later and trying to carry more speed through the corner to make up for your lack of speed on the straight. That’s difficult, but after the last stop I was pulling away from them. I was still saving fuel but the car was great and it allowed me to drive exactly as I wanted to.”
Franchitti last raced in the streets of Long Beach in 2002 during the CART days and he was delighted to score his first win in the California street race. “It’s great to win here in Long Beach,” Dario grinned. “To win here back in the unified IndyCar series and with a great crowd who were really enthusiastic is great. I think the competition level has gone up. Everybody can see how strong it is all the way through the field.”
Franchitti drove for Team Green during his CART days before moving to the IRL with Andretti-Green Racing in 2003. He won the IRL championship and Indy 500 with AGR in 2007, before trying NACAR last season with Chip Ganassi’s team. “I needed to do something else,” Dario said. “I’d been doing this for a long time and I needed to try something else.”
The experiment turned sour however and Ganassi asked Dario if he wanted to come back to Indy Car racing with his team. “Both Chip and I went through some pretty tough times last year,” Franchitti remarked. “I went over to NASCAR with him and he couldn’t find a sponsor. It was very tough because both of us had been used to having success.
“I didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was but that year away showed me what I was missing. Chip had an awful lot to work on in NASCAR last year and I lost my drive and a lot of people lost their jobs. So it was a tough year and it’s great to be able to come back to the IndyCar series and win here with Chip.”
After two of fourteen rounds Franchitti leads the IRL championship with 84 points followed by Power on 69, St. Petersbrg winner Ryan Briscoe on 67 and Kanaan in fourth place with 65 points.