By Amy Konrath
Today’s IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. Franchitti’s experience, enthusiasm tough combination to beat
2. Inside the Box Score – 96th Indianapolis 500
1. Franchitti’s experience, enthusiasm tough combination to beat: Occasionally, Dario Franchitti will ring up Sir Jackie Stewart for some perspective.
“Jackie, what do I do here?” Franchitti says. “He’ll give me some advice. He has such an unusual way of thinking about things sometimes.”
If possible, he would do the same with Jim Clark, the fellow Scot who won two Formula One World Championships and the 1965 Indianapolis 500 whom Franchitti holds in highest regard.
“Between (Clark) and Jackie, the guys I wanted to emulate, to drive like,” Franchitti says of his youth and appropriate to this day. “I don’t have their talent, so I try and work hard. I’m lucky I’m with a great team.”
Those elements, in a team sport that shines the spotlight on the individual in the cockpit, have combined to give the Scot three Indianapolis 500 victories (the 10thdriver to claim three or more wins). The latest was recorded May 27 in a wildly entertaining – for competitors and spectators – race that featured a record 34 lead changes, including eight in the final 25 laps, in near-record heat.
It was Franchitti’s 31st Indy car win, tying Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy for seventh all-time. Ahead are individuals who, like Stewart and Clark, Franchitti admires not only for their on-track accomplishments but their perseverance and love of the sport – A.J. Foyt, Mario and Michael Andretti, and the three Unsers (Al, Al Jr. and Bobby).
Still, he honestly can’t see himself in such elite company. Waiting for driver introductions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he and Tony Kanaan were chatting in a quiet corner of the green room when they were approached by Parnelli Jones, Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser (who have a collective seven Indy 500 wins).
“(I was thinking) this is cool. T.K. and I were getting our pictures taken. We were like a couple of kids. We were with the legends of the sport,” says Franchitti, who was the second driver to win from the 16th starting position in race history.
“I’m very proud — and I’ve said this before — of the achievements, whether it’s Indy wins, championships, every one of the race wins. Sometimes I look back, but generally I’m trying to look forward. When I retire, that’s the time to look back and hang out with my friends here, hang over the fence.”
With an impressive 17 victories and four IZOD IndyCar Series championships since 2007 (he competed in stock cars in 2008), Franchitti remains grounded in the team aspect of the sport and family, and appreciates his status through the struggles in the mid-1990s to secure and retain an open-wheel racing ride in Europe and his short-lived NASCAR foray.
“I think he’s the same old Dario,” says Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, the Indy 500 runner-up. “I think he was actually hungrier (entering the 2009 season) because he wanted to prove when he came back that he was still the driver that he was. He’s definitely done that — maybe a little too much.
“The thing with Dario, he’s always there. Earlier in the day, a lot of guys wouldn’t come back from (a pit lane incident that knocked him to the rear of the field) that, mentally be strong enough to get back from that.”
Kanaan, a former teammate at then-Andretti Green Racing and a longtime friend, agrees.
“I think this is the beauty of Dario, he will never change,” says Kanaan, who finished third in the race. “He’s always been picky. He always has his own ways to do things. As a personal friend of mine, it doesn’t matter. It’s the same Dario that has won zero championships, zero 500s till today.
“He’s a guy that appreciates life, friends and family. Thank God nothing got on top of his head about all the winnings he’s had. That’s why we’re good friends.”
Franchitti’s past two Indy 500 victories and past three series titles have been with Target Chip Ganassi Racing – an Indy car team that has had winning drivers throughout its 22-year history including Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, Arie Luyendyk and Alex Zanardi.
“In Dario’s case, we have a guy that hasn’t reached his midlife crisis yet, that drives with the experience of his age, but he comes to work every day with the enthusiasm and the intent of an 18-year-old,” managing director Mike Hull says. “That’s a pretty tough combination to beat.”
2. Inside the Box Score – 96th Indianapolis 500: Numbers to note following the 96th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the fifth of 16 events of the 2012 IZOD Indy Car Series season.
1 – Driver who has have completed every lap of every race in the first five IZOD IndyCar Series events: James Hinchcliffe.
3 – Indianapolis 500 wins for Dario Franchitti, the 10th driver to win the Indianapolis 500 three or more times.
4 – Drivers to lead the Indianapolis 500 for the first time: James Hinchcliffe, Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball and Rubens Barrichello.
5 – Indianapolis 500 wins for car owner Chip Ganassi (1989, 2000, 2009, 2010 and 2012). Ganassi tied Lou Moore for second among Indianapolis 500 wining car owners.
6 – Different teams represented in the top 10 in the IZOD IndyCar Series standings.
8 – Different teams represented in the top 10 of the 96th Indianapolis 500
9 – Different drivers to finish on the podium in the first five races of 2012.
16 – Starting position of Dario Franchitti. The only other driver to win from 16th position was Dan Wheldon in 2005.
23 – Positions gained by Oriol Servia en route to his season-best performance on fourth at Indianapolis.
31 – Indy car wins for Dario Franchitti, tying him with Sebastien Bourdais and Paul Tracy as the active leader in victories.
34 – Lead changes among 10 drivers. It was the most lead changes in the 101-year history of the Indianapolis 500.
36 – Points separating Power (200) from Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe (164) in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings.
50 – Number carried by the Indianapolis 500 winner for the first time.
59 – Laps led by Marco Andretti. He had led 31 laps at Indianapolis in his previous six starts. It was the seventh time an Andretti had led the most laps at Indianapolis. Mario led the most laps in 1969, 1985, 1987 and 1993. Michael led the most laps in 1991 and 1992.
62 – Positions gained by Servia in the first five races of 2012. (An average of 12.2 positions per race)
91 – Degrees, the high temperature in Indianapolis on May 27, 2012 – tying the 1919 and 1953 as the second-hottest 500 Race Day.
109 – Top five finishes for Dario Franchitti in his Indy car racing career.
186 – Consecutive Indy car starts for Tony Kanaan dating to the 2001 CART race in Portland.
1,366 – Consecutive laps completed by Scott Dixon at the Indianapolis 500, a race record. The previous record stood for 71 years and belonged to Wilbur Shaw, who completed 1,351 consecutive laps from 1935-41.
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 3 at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. The race will be televised by ABC at 3:30 p.m. (ET) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (XM 94 and Sirius 212). The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on June 2 at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 5 p.m. (ET) on June 7 and broadcast live by the IMS Radio Network.