INDYCAR: 15 Questions with Dario Franchitti, Part 2
Marshall Pruett, SPEED.com
SPEED.com’s Marshall Pruett and three-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti wrap-up their two-part chat with a final set of questions, including who Franchitti would pick from throughout motor racing history to compete for the $5 million prize at Las Vegas.
PRUETT: Are there any drivers in the IndyCar Series you feel just don’t get enough respect or coverage for his or her talents?
FRANCHITTI: Wow. I think there's some people that are sort of underestimated quite a lot and quite consistently. And they have been through their career.
I think [Scott Dixon]. For all that Dixie’s achieved, I don’t think that he gets the love. And then there's other people who cause a media storm every time they sneeze…
(I ask if a driver like Justin Wilson fits the 'not enough respect' model)
I think actually think JWill does get the love he deserves. I think when Justin does something well I think it is reported. I think people understand Justin's talent. So I think he does and I think that people who know, know what he’s capable of.
I think people in-the-know in the sport understand and appreciate a guy like Justin. Yeah, in a wider audience he’s not one of the more well-known drivers in the paddock yet. But I think that will change if he becomes a consistent championship challenger.
PRUETT: I was recently reading about a softball game organized by CART drivers in the 1980s, and got to thinking about how and why we don’t see a similar level of camaraderie and fun from today’s IndyCar drivers. They played for charity. What would it take to arrange a soccer game or similar to get the drivers together for some fun and sport away from the track.
FRANCHITTI: I think it could happen again. There’s a lot of the same players. I remember we played softball, I think at Homestead, my very first CART test or something. I suck at softball. But then we played football-- or soccer as you guys call it – at Road America. I’ve got all these funny pictures in my house in Scotland of Greg [Moore] and I and Max [Papis] and all those guys playing football. And so we used to do it. But I don't know if it's because people are busy or what. There’s definitely… race weekends, a lot of the guys will hang out but I don't think it’s one big group.
I'll hang with Dixie or Tony [Kanaan] or Dan [Wheldon] at that point or JWill. And you’ve got Marco [Andretti] and [Mike] Conway and those guys. The guys are still doing it, I just don't know if they're doing organized stuff like that anymore. Which is a shame.
PRUETT: You get to pick five drivers for the Las Vegas $5M promotion—I know you’re a student of motor racing history, so give me your five fantasy picks from any era. Do you go with a legend like Rick Mears, who retired just before you came onto the scene? Who do you choose and why?
FRANCHITTI: Waaah... Pruett, you’re killing me. Geez.
The first one is obvious, Jimmy Clark. Just because to race on the same track as him. I’d prefer to do that on a road course than in Vegas because I don’t think Vegas is the place I would choose to race my hero. But Jimmy Clark, for sure. I guess Jackie Stewart, too. I would love to see what Jackie would make of it.
And AJ Foyt, absolutely. I mean, ohhh, Lord.
You know what would worry me? If it was three-wide and I’m in the middle and I look over and I’ve got AJ on the outside and Parnelli Jones on the inside. I know who’d be the first one to lift in that thing and I think he’d have a Scottish accent! Yeah, so Parnelli is in there, definitely. Rick Mears. Aww, brother. I just think Rick is incredible.
Yeah, I could go on for hours, whether it was Rick – the one guy I really or two guys I’d dream of seeing at the same time, actually, are Gilles and Jacques Villenueve. Can you imagine Gilles trying to snap that thing sideways? It would be brilliant. And Jacques, at Indianapolis…the guy was a monster. So those two. I think a guy who's very underrated – even for his success at Indianapolis – is Arie Luyendyk. I think he’s pretty impressive. So I'd like to see Arie in there. That's just off the cuff.
Yeah, again, I think Senna would be up on that list, Mario, God, absolutely. Anybody with a second name Unser. Bobby Sr., Jr. Where does it stop? Johnny Rutherford, Lone Star JR. The list really could go on and on. I think I would be more interesting to do this in Milwaukee or somewhere. I think that would be terrific. Putting all these guys on Milwaukee where you’re on and off the throttle. Not banking…that’s where heroes were made.
PRUETT: Let’s talk about the guy who came up with the Las Vegas promotion. Randy Bernard has cited you as a valued advisor on a few different occasions—how often are you whispering in his ear, and are you keen on the growing list of changes and additions to the series—side-by-side restarts, possible Lucky Dogs, tighter qualifying limits and caps on car counts…
FRANCHITTI: Yeah, Kanaan and I actually started talking to Randy when he first came on board and Justin was involved too. We just sat down and talked and Randy seemed very receptive so anytime I have an idea or a bee in my bonnet I call him up and I say, “Have you thought about this?” Or he'll phone me and say, “Hey, what about this?” Or, “What do you think about that?” I like the fact that he doesn't… it's not like he phones you up and asks you to make a decision; he phones you up to ask you for your thoughts on a subject. And I'm sure he's phoned three or four or five other people and then he goes, okay, I now have a balanced view and this is the decision I'm making.
So that's been an interesting thing for me, it’s something I've wanted to do. I think anyone who is involved and love their sport wants to help improve it. I see myself as a racing fan and I think anybody that sits and watches races on Sunday, whether it's in the stands or on TV, they’re like: “They need to do this that way, why aren’t they doing that?” They’ve got their opinions. At this point, I'm lucky that the big boss-man takes my calls and I can express my opinion. I don't agree with everything he does but the vast majority of it, I think he’s absolutely hitting it out of the park.
PRUETT: Whenever you decide to step back from racing in open-wheel full-time, do you see yourself getting involved on the team side—possibly buying into a team or starting your own at some level—or have the recent troubles for de Ferran, TK and PT put you off on the business side of the sport?
FRANCHITTI: I don't know. First of all, I don't know because I'm very much still thinking as a driver and my best year – well, first of all, people kind of like to pigeonhole ages. “You're going to be this age or you’re starting to get this age now. Blah blah.” I don't look at it like that because my last three years in IndyCar series gave me three championships and two Indy 500s. It's my most successful time, my most productive time. So I see myself very much still as a driver and hopefully I'll have that, and I’ll be able to operate at this level for a good while yet.
So I haven't really thought too much about the whole “after” part of my career. I will say, I don’t see myself as owning a team. Whatever I do when I retire from IndyCar racing, I’d love to still be in the paddock because it's been a big part of my life and I love, I'm passionate about the sport. So I'd love to be involved somehow. I'm not sure how yet.
PRUETT: Do you play talent spotter much with the new crop of drivers coming up through the Mazda Road To Indy ranks? Any kids you’ve been impressed with of late?
FRANCHITTI: I really had my finger on the pulse through a lot of the different series– whether it's the U.S. or certainly Europe when (Franchitti’s cousin and 2010 DTM champion) Paul [di Resta] was coming up through, when he was doing Renault Formula 3 and DTM, that kind of stuff. Certainly, in the Renault Formula 3 years, I was really aware of what all the young guys were doing, whatever series, and who his competition was going to be to get a drive in F1.
Also the guys coming up through in America. I'm not quite as plugged in as I was with that. As a past winner of the McLaren Autosport young driver award, I still kept my eye on things with that too. But not as much as I used to. I think the rookie class for this season in IndyCar looks pretty good. And I think, particularly, if we can get James Hinchcliffe in there too, he’ll be good. I was very, very impressed with him at Sebring.
And I think if you look at some of the drivers coming in the Light series, the Light series looks like it's going to have a good class too. I'm very much of the opinion, unlike Robin [Miller], that I don't care where you're from; I want the best 26 people sitting in the cars, whether you're from some part of the U.S. or whether you’re from Colombia or Scotland or Germany or France – wherever you're from, I want the best guys sitting in there.
PRUETT: You’re known as a Porsche enthusiast. How did you react to learning Porsche’s Rennsport Reunion will be held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but on the same weekend as the Las Vegas finale? Any flying back and forth?
FRANCHITTI: I'm so sad. I was literally at my local dealer with the parts man at Porsche National and, and he and I were studying the dates of Rennsport about an hour and a half ago when I was picking up batteries for my car.
It’s not looking good, is it? I mean, I’ve become more and more of a Porsche-phile as the years have gone by. And some of my Ferrari’s have actually gone the way of… have now transformed into Porsches.
I'd love to go. It would be fun if I could get my own hot rod over there and drive it. But, for me, I've got to focus 100 percent on IndyCar. The way my mind works, I can’t be jumping back and forwards. And it will be a big loss because there’ll be some nice kit there. I didn’t know it was the same weekend.
You just ruined my day, Pruett. Nice going...