Reigning four-time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti assesses Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay before the season-ending MAVTV 500 – and explains why (for once) he comes to the finale knowing he's about to give up his crown.
Maybe this year more than ever, the IZOD IndyCar Series has proven that you need to have everything right if you want to have success. And for all teams, finding that level on a truly consistent basis has been a major struggle in 2012. It's been an extraordinary season.
I realize that there are two fewer races this year than in 2010, for instance, but myself and Will Power were up at the 600-point mark in the championship two years ago, whereas this year only one person can hit 500…and yet up to five people may be past the 400-point mark by next Saturday night. The points have been far more evenly distributed over the past 14 races than in recent seasons, which I guess proves that the new car had the effect IndyCar desired.
For us on the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing team, there have simply been too many issues and so we were mathematically eliminated from the championship with two rounds to go. But realistically, the game was up before then. Whether it was getting a handle on the new car, being outpaced, engine blow-ups, pit stop issues and just sheer bad luck, we just weren't able to take advantage of all the days when we had a winning car.
But there will be no finger-pointing from any of us – this is the same group of guys who took the past three championships, and although we're in a very uncharacteristic ninth in the championship standings, we have won a race this year. And if you're only going to win one race, I think we got the right one! But hey, look at even that day: we got turned on pit lane and had to come from the back. Hmm…now I think about it, that was some of my best driving this year and the team's execution that day was flawless.
But the season isn't quite over. There's one race to go, it's another 500-miler and I think we stand at least as good a chance at Fontana as anyone else. We can just go for it. There's a lot less pressure on us in the finale than in the past three years – and to be honest, that feels horrible! I really would be happy to deal again with the pressure of going for the championship. Ah well…
The two guys who do face that burden of expectation are Will Power, the guy who's run us closest the past couple of years, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, driving for the team with whom I won my first title. Will has the points advantage, but Ryan has won more recently.
The new car threw everyone for a bit of a loop, as you'd expect. We all knew the old one, and I mean we really knew it inside out: we knew that if we made adjustment X and adjustment Y it would give us result Z, whether that was in terms of handling, traction, stability under braking, and so on.
The Dallara DW12 was something very different, and I think we saw Will and Team Penske get on top of that and explore all of its avenues quicker than anyone else. But like the rest of us, they had engine issues and therefore grid-penalty issues and other things you expect to encounter over the course of an IndyCar season, like strategy not working with the way the yellows fell or the pits being open under yellow or unexpectedly closed! Will and I both got hosed at Toronto, for instance, because the pits were closed, and so from first and second we came out of the pits outside of the top 10, I think.
These are things that just get in the way, and cause you to stumble. Will hasn't been taking advantage of his pace. I'm not saying it's down to him (although actually I really think maybe it is but you'll have to check with Will on that one!). Seriously, when I say “Will,” I mean the No. 12 team – you can't ever separate the driver from the rest of the team. For various reasons, they often haven't achieved what their pace suggested they could have (I know the feeling, mate!).
However, I think Will has become a smart operator in terms of accumulating points and seeing the big picture. I had someone ask me if that's something he learned from competing against us over the past couple of seasons, and, I don't want to sound like I'm flattering myself, but I really think maybe it is. You don't see Will making a risky pass for fourth if he thinks he might lose a nose-wing doing it; he'll take the fifth place. And that has made him more consistent in a year when it's damn hard to be consistent. When I was racing around him at Toronto and Baltimore, too, I remember thinking to myself, “Will: that's a very cautious and measured attack.” There was no wildness.