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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Franchitti's dominant Indy win

by Gordon Kirby
Dario Franchitti showed everyone how to do it at Indianapolis on Sunday. Dario scored his second Indy 500 win in style, seizing the lead on the opening lap and leading most of the race. The amiable Scot outpaced the trio of Penske entries and anybody else who tried to do battle with him. Team owner Chip Ganassi said Franchitti's aggressive start put his stamp on this year's 94th running of the 500.

"At the start of the race Dario asserted himself," Chip observed. "He got by Will Power going into one. He went around the outside of Will in turn one and then passed Helio in turn two before it went yellow. That kind of set the stage. I think that was very important for Dario in pounding his fist and staking his claim.

"Certainly, you can't win the race on the start," Ganassi added. "But you can lose it and I think that went a long way to getting him up in the seat. As the race went on we were able to pull out one second, then two seconds. He was dominant up through 150 laps. Between Scott and Dario they led a bunch of laps here before and came up short. We've led more laps than we did today and didn't win."

Franchitti's car was on the edge all the way. "In order to be quick here you have to be on edge," Dario remarked. "You seldom drive around here and think, 'This is quick and it's easy. From the first lap today it wasn't easy to drive. It was bouncing around in turn one as much as I've had a car move around here in the rear. I couldn't fix that because it was in balance in other corners. But it was fast. Everybody had a problem in traffic but we seemed to get through.

"My car was a handful, but it was a fast handful. When it's fast, you can hang onto it. When it's not quite like that you have to start making adjustments. It was a handful, particularly in turn one. But it was a handful doing 223 mph laps when other guys were doing 221s. We made one change. That was it."

Franchitti and his engineer Chris Simmons made a last minute decision to trim his car out.

"This morning I went into the truck and we had a meeting," Dario said. "I asked Chris, 'Are you happy with the wings we're running? Scott and I split downforce levels. We didn't want to run exactly the same because we wanted to give ourselves room to cover ourselves a little more. He said he was happy. We added half a turn of front wing. It was a handful, but it was a fast handful."

He said he was ready and confident about making his outside move at the start.

"I knew the car was capable of that move at the start. It's something I've done here before. When I got past Will I thought, 'Fair enough.' I was sitting on Helio's gearbox and I thought, 'Damn, this is good!' So I pulled on past him."

Franchitti said after the first round of pitstops he began to believe he could win the race.

"I thought I had a good chance," he said. "I thought I had a fast car by the time I did the first stint because I knew how the car was running through the whole thing. At that point I thought, we're in the fight here. We made a lot of the right choices on car set-up and all day from lap one to lap 200 I drove the thing as hard I know how."

After qualifying Ganassi's team worked hard to make up the deficit to Team Penske.

"We tried our best in qualifying and we came up a little short," Dario commented. "None of us were happy with that and Scott and I worked very hard on the car on Bump Day, and on Carb Day we worked hard again. We left Carb Day thinking the car was good."

Ganassi's general manager Mike Hull expanded on Franchitti's observations.

"I think we worked all week to do what you saw today," Hull said. "We were fast during the week. We weren't always the fastest car but what we concentrated on was working on fuel mileage and race setup to understand what the mechanical grip is versus the aero side of the car. And I think that was demonstrated today.

"As a team we worked very hard with both Dario and Scott to understand what we would need for today. You just wait for the atmospheric condition and the density of the air to match the mechanical setup with the aero side. The worst thing you can do on a day like today is put too much aero in your car and slow you down. You've got to have enough aero to be able to run the laps when you're out front like Dario was today."

Added Ganassi: "It takes a guy like Mike to keep everybody focused and calm and on plan about what we're doing. My hat's off to Mike for doing that during practice and qualifying."

Franchitti was a little worried at the end of the race.

"It was all looking good right up through the last yellow," Dario said. "Then we had to save fuel. Were we saving enough fuel? Was Tony going to catch us? Turns out he wasn't. I was concerned about running out of fuel and I was concerned about Tony. I thought, 'Man, if he's saving as much fuel as me he's going to make this a difficult last five laps or so.' Then he pitted and that took a lot of pressure off. Until he pitted I never took my eyes off him because he can always surprise you.

"But the guys were like, 'Just get to the finish.' They said, 'Dan is a ways back. He's coming on a bit, but he's a ways back.' They said: 'We have a good gap.' I was managing the gap to Dan, but Dan was coming on. Turns out we had plenty of fuel because of the slow-down laps. I came into the pitlane, did some burnouts and still had some fuel in it. So there was enough."

In fact, 1.6 gallons were left in Dario's tank after the race.

"The worse thing you can do and we've done it," Ganassi remarked, "is come in second or third in this race and have fuel left in your tank that you didn't use."

Chip said Franchitti's speed gave him a cushion on fuel.

"We were lucky that Dario had a good enough car that he could stretch-out his lead by four or five seconds because we needed those four or five seconds at the end when we were having to save fuel," Ganassi observed. "We were a little confused from listening to the numbers we where hearing that some of the other teams needed."

Added Mike Hull: "We had to employ everything we do as a race team. We had to employ set-up, speed, strategy and understanding fuel at different times in the race, not only at the end."

Franchitti's win also means Ganassi becomes the first team owner to win both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same year.

"I'm a lucky guy to be in this business and to be able to work with people that accomplish that," Chip remarked. "I didn't drive either car, I didn't change any tires and I didn't put any fuel in the cars. I have hundreds of people to do that kind of thing and I'm very, very lucky. I'm the guy who gets my name on the door, but it's a lot of hard work by a lot of people who never get the attention that they should.

"A lot of decision-making is made where you never know if you made the right decision or not. I used to hear Roger say, 'You're on the end of the diving board.' You have no idea what a lonely world it is being a car owner these days. You've got sponsors on one side of you. You've got drivers on the other side and your team on another side of you. Everybody's always pushing hard to get those cars to the front. What we work at with our teams is to win the next race."

Added Franchitti: "All Chip wants to do is win. If you're not interested in that, if you take your eye off the ball, he lets you know. That's all he cares about. Mike is the same. To be part of a team like this just makes your job so easy as a driver. You're going to get beaten, absolutely. But you know everybody is on it all the time. That comes from the top down."

Ganassi had equally complimentary words to say about Franchitti.

"The guy's a champion," Ganassi said. "He's been there and done that and he knows what it takes from the first day of practice up through the finish of the race. He's a consummate professional. We showed up here at the beginnning of May and he and Scott and Mike and I had dinner one night. We just had a nice, calm dinner, like I do every year with the drivers, and we said, 'Look, everybody knows what we have to do and why we're here.'

"We talked about it in Long Beach and in Kansas and at dinner that night here. We said we're here to win the race and let's get everybody moving in that direction toward that one goal which is the checkered flag here today."

Mike Hull praised Franchitti's energy and open working relationship with teammate Dixon.

"We've got a guy who mentally is twenty years old in the body of a guy who has a ton of experience," Hull remarked. "He comes to work every day like a twenty year old and that matches our ethic which is to get the most out of today. Dario just matches up so well for us and he's always trying to make us better.

"We've had pairs of drivers over time that have been fantastic race drivers but these two guys that we have right now never, ever hide anything from the other driver. They never hold anything back and that's the first time we've seen that at Chip Ganassi Racing. I hate to admit that, but it's very true. Zanardi used to say, 'I always keep a little bit in my pocket.' But Dario puts what's in his pocket on the table for Dixon and Dixon puts on the table what's in his pocket for Dario, and I think that makes a big difference.

"The greatest thing about our team is what we've done as a group together for quite a long time. When someone comes or someone goes and someone new fills a different place they always make that job better. That's what creates the consistency and momentum that we have as a team."

Added Franchitti:

"Today my guys were perfect. That's what it took. Chip told us this morning. 'We're in the hunt here today guys. Make no mistakes.'."

Franchitti reflected warmly on his second visit to Victory Lane at Indianapolis.

"I have to say that feeling when you drive into Victory Lane and you see some of your family--my dad was here--and Ashley and some of my family from Nashville and my friends from Scotland and my team. It's cool man. That's it, right there. You get out and you get to drink the milk. That's what it's all about."

Dario also said he can't put himself in the same category as Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart, a pair of Scottish world champions who also performed well in the Indy 500.

"I could win races and Indy 500s for the rest of my life, 'til I'm 70 years old, and I still wouldn't be in the same vein as Jim Clark or Jackie Stewart. Those guys are absolute legends. I'm in awe of both of them."

Fact is, Franchitti is the big star of IndyCar today. He's got two Indy 500 wins under his belt and now he's going for his third IndyCar title and second in a row.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2010 ~ All Rights Reserved

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