How IndyCar crash ended Franchitti's 'handshake' Porsche LMP1 deal

Indycar Racing News

Dario Franchitti had a deal in principle to drive Porsche's all-conquering 919 in the 2015 WEC campaign before a horror IndyCar crash forced him into retirement. The Scotsman relives a world of 'what-ifs?' in Motor Sport's latest Centenary Stories podcast episode

Dario Franchitti IndyCar Chip Ganassi

Dario Franchitti: A three-time Indy 500 champion, who could have gone for the win at Le Mans too

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At the 2013 Grand Prix of Houston, Dario Franchitti suffered a horrifying crash which brought the curtain down prematurely on his racing career. 

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner had been battling with Takuma Sato when a collision suddenly launched his car against a wall and up into the catch fencing above. 13 spectators were injured in the accident and Franchitti was hospitalised with a broken right ankle, two broken vertebrae and a concussion which was later the cause for five weeks of specific memory loss, leading up to and including the crash.

Although he would eventually fully recover from all his injuries, the Scotsman announced his retirement from racing just one month after his horrific high-speed accident, leaving IndyCar a 31-time race winner and four-time season champion. But as he tells Motor Sport in the latest Centenary Stories podcast episode, the thought of leaving IndyCar had been lingering even before that day in Houston – with a deal to race in WEC and at Le Mans for Porsche in its mighty 919 LMP1 car already agreed in principles for 2015.

“There weren’t thoughts of retiring from racing,” he says. “But there were thoughts of retiring from IndyCar. We’d had that incredibly successful period from ’09 to 2012 with two [Indy] 500 wins and three championships. But I could feel my motivation just trailing off.

“And that’s very important to me. A lot of my commitment, my speed came from having that motivation. I didn’t want to be the weak link in the chain. I knew how hard everybody worked.

“I was talking to Porsche about the 919 program and I had met Wolfgang Hatz. The end of that conversation was a handshake and a ‘Right, let’s do something for 2015.'”

Unfortunately, Franchitti’s crash at Houston out paid to the agreement – Porsche’s 919 went onto dominate the 2015 World Endurance Championship, with six victories and a 1-2 finish at Le Mans without Franchitti.

Le Mans 2015 Porsche

What could have been for Dario: Porsche take 1-2 victory at Le Mans

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Although disappointed to miss out, Franchitti maintained his concentration on the big picture. He had survived a crash that could have killed him and felt incredibly lucky, for others had not been so fortunate when competing in one of IndyCar’s most dangerous eras.

“[The pack racing] was horrible,” said Franchitti. “The good news was with the DW12s, that kind of racing finished. The bad news was the car was called the DW12 because Dan [Wheldon] died in the last pack race – the ultimate pack race – in Vegas.

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“It was a horrible form of racing and none of us enjoyed it. I became quite good at it [racing on ovals] but that when you went short oval racing or you went to Indy – but that was not pack racing. That was lovely. Whereas you went on these one and a half mile tracks and it was just madness.

“But that’s where you formed some of these bonds because you had to build this trust with people.”

Franchitti’s forced and premature retirement was a disappointment to many, but his 40 years of racing experience was something that Chip Ganassi wasn’t going to let slip away.

Shortly after the Scotsman told his former team boss that he would not be racing anymore due to the injuries he sustained from the crash, Ganassi quickly offered him the role as a driver advisor, acting as the voice in the ear of many wanting to follow in his footsteps.

Las Vegas 300 IndyCar

The ‘last’ IndyCar pack race: 2011 Las Vegas 300

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Being a heavyweight figure in any IndyCar paddock, Franchitti took to the role with ease and even played an instrumental role in Marcus Ericsson‘s 2022 Indy 500 victory.

“It wasn’t that hard,” says Franchitti, when asked about adapting to life as a retired racing driver. “It might have actually been the better [way things turned out], because I was so happy to be alive that it didn’t register for a while, to be honest.

“[The Porsche deal] could have gave me a finish line to aim for. But obviously the accident happened and that didn’t happen. I didn’t get to do that, and I’m sure I could have stayed around a bit longer, but I was getting close to the time.”