Tuesday, October 5, 2010
IndyCar Season Review: Dario Franchitti
With the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights Series seasons having drawn to a close, we begin the season review process for all notable drivers and teams in both. First up is IZOD IndyCar Series champion, Dario Franchitti.
Dario Franchitti has begun to establish himself as one of the best open-wheel racers of all time.
Barring a brief and unsuccessful foray into NASCAR in 2008, Franchitti is now three for three in his past three attempts to win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. He took the first title in 2007 with Andretti Green Racing before jumping to stock cars with Chip Ganassi in 2008, then joined Ganassi's IndyCar team the next season to win the next two.
Since joining Ganassi, he has taken eight of his 26 career wins, and now is the first IndyCar champion of the Randy Bernard/IZOD era.
The picture didn't always look so bright for Franchitti this season, however. One of the top drivers in the CART era, which primarily focused on road and street course prowess, he finished no higher than third in any of the first four races of the season, leaving him sixth in the standings and 60 points back of leader Will Power going into the first oval segment of the season.
It was then that Franchitti began to find his stride. He followed up a runner-up finish at Kansas with his second career Indianapolis 500 victory. He took the win in dominant fashion, leading a remarkable 155 laps from the third starting spot. He briefly assumed the points lead at Texas, but issues with the car at Iowa handed the lead back to Power as the series began another road course jaunt.
Franchitti finished no worse than the bottom step of the podium in the next five road course races, taking the win at Mid-Ohio, but still lost another 45 points on the dominant Power over that span. But heading into the final segment of the year, a stretch of four ovals, Franchitti and his Chip Ganassi Racing team were confident that they could make up the 59 point deficit.
Most of the ground was made up in the series' final race at Chicagoland Speedway. Franchitti took the victory while Power finished a lap down in 16th, having run out of fuel achingly close to the finish. Of the 64 points that the Scot eventually gained on Power, Chicago accounted for 36 of them.
Solid runs at Kentucky and Motegi secured the A.J. Foyt Oval Championship for Franchitti, and put him in a position to challenge for the overall title in the season finale at Homestead. By now, he was only 12 points back of Power, meaning a win from pole while leading the most laps would guarantee him the championship regardless of Power's finish.
From there, Franchitti did exactly what he needed to do. He qualified on the pole, led 128 of the race's 200 laps, and didn't push the car too hard to the finish when Power made a mistake and brushed the wall with under 70 laps to go. His eventual eighth place finish gave him the series title by a mere five points, the closest margin by which he has ever taken the title. (He won by 13 points in 2007 and by nine last year.)
At the season-ending awards banquet, Franchitti hauled in over $1.1 million worth of bonuses for his third consecutive championship, buoyed mostly by the $1 million check for winning the series championship. There, he announced that he was only a signature away from returning to Ganassi to attempt three in a row in 2011.