Franchitti: History can wait
Before Dario Franchitti went out and won the pole for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship-deciding race, Chip Ganassi asserted that the second-year Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver should be considered among the best of all-time. A day later – with a record-tying three IZOD IndyCar Series championships, two Indianapolis 500 victories and 26 Indy car career wins – the team owner's statements require deeper consideration. At Chicagoland Speedway in August, Franchitti tied Rodger Ward for 11th on the all-time list. Next in his sights is Johnny Rutherford, and matching Rick Mears (29) isn't out of the question.
“I think he's definitely come on,” said teammate Scott Dixon, a two-time series champion who won the season-ending Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure third place in the championship. “They say that kind of about triathletes; your mid-30s are kind of your peak. He's getting close to 40. So he's stretching the window.
“I think the determining factor for a lot of people when they get to that age, if they have the will to do it, and you know whether they want to get up and train and do those things and make it worthwhile. And Dario, still you can see the fire. You can see that he's an extremely competitive person. Right now, you'd have to say that he's at his peak.”
Franchitti, who has come from behind to clinch each of his championships in the final race, says the fire is kindled by the success and “the fun I'm having (competing) in the series.” But the self-effacing Scot won't be drawn into discussions of his current or projected place among the greatest names. The formal presentation of the inaugural A.J. Foyt Oval Championship Trophy is an example of his reverence for the sport.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God, it's A.J. Foyt,' '' he said. “We were sitting, talking away like old buddies. I'm thinking, ‘It's A.J. Foyt.' Then Mario [Andretti]. I know him from my years driving with Mike. But I'm thinking it's Mario, Rick Mears. These guys are legends of the sport. And these guys are special.
“Look back to the start of 2007. I hadn't won a championship. I won a lot of races not a championship or Indy 500. Now we find ourselves with two ‘500s' and three championships. I'm just going to enjoy it. I think I'm just going to let it sink in, enjoy it. I'm very proud of the achievement.”
Franchitti totaled three victories this season, to chief competitor Will Power's five, and it was the consistency throughout the 17-race season that again sealed the deal. A gearbox issue at Iowa in mid-June (resulting in a 18th place after starting fifth) and missing the car's setup at Long Beach in mid-April (where he started and finished 12th) were the only finishes out of the top 10. Following Iowa, when he trailed Power by 14 points, Franchitti reeled off eight consecutive top-five finishes,including victories at Mid-Ohio and Chicagoland.
“I think Japan was possibly one of the most aggressive and trouble-free, mistake-free races I've ever driven, probably in the top five races I've ever driven in my life,” said Franchitti, who advanced positions to second and gained five critical points on Power, who finished third. That closed the deficit heading into the title-deciding race at Homestead to 12 points. Franchitti earned the bonus point for winning the PEAK Performance Pole Award and secured the two bonus points for leading the most laps (on lap 118 of 200). When Power's No 12 Verizon Team Penske car brushed the wall on lap 135, bending the right-rear wishbone, Franchitti's revised goal was to finish in the top 10 to clinch the title.
“It's very difficult to kind of compare the three,” he said. “For whatever reason, we at Team Target – both Scott and myself – maybe didn't have the speed advantage we had last year. In some cases, we have to work harder to finish in the top 5 at races. So to come away with a championship after a season like that is very satisfying. And we look back to Iowa and think to that gearbox, that took a lot of points away, and from then on it was a real struggle. But nobody on the Target team gave up. We did our best every single week.
“If I can keep operating at (this) level, who knows? Allow me to continue that. I'm just loving it.”