Largely silent since the season-ending round of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series championship, Target Chip Ganassi Racing champion driver Dario Franchitti and owner Chip Ganassi reflected Tuesday on how things have sunk in since Las Vegas, and how the team is progressing with its 2012 plans.
Franchitti confirmed his fourth IndyCar title at Las Vegas but has been unable to celebrate it in full, following Dan Wheldon's fatal accident. Reflecting after a couple months, his fourth title was different in that the competition on-track remained tough as usual, but the rivalry with Will Power spilled over beyond the racing itself.
“I think it spilled over off the track,” Franchitti said. “Any of the championship battles I've been involved with before, we've always kept it pretty much strictly on the track and fought out terrific battles on the track. Some people maybe saw the lack of any kind of banter or problems outside the car, maybe they saw that as us taking it a little easy on each other.
“On the track, the competition was as hard as I've ever had. I'm talking about '07, '09 and '10. This year it spilled over off the track a couple times. That was something we saw. That was probably the biggest difference. The competition level was very much the same.
“I think the biggest difference is it ended up being very much a two-horse race because Scott (Dixon) had such horrendous luck early on in the championship, otherwise I think it would have been a three-horse race again.”
Franchitti did a bulk of the Honda manufacturer testing in November before handing the duties over to his TCGR teammate Scott Dixon. The car's gone through a progression since then and Franchitti admits he hopes it's better than when he first tested it now that testing is in the teams' hands.
“Working with the car has been fun and a little frustrating, too,” Franchitti said. “There's been some imbalance. But it's important the series allows the latitude to deal with the different driving styles.
“Right now the car seems to suit my style, but in fairness, it needs to be worked on. Hopefully the work leads to an elegant engineering situation.
“This new car is part of the evolution of the series,” Ganassi added. “It didn't come out at the pace or rate of the current car, but I don't think that's the end of the world. A new car doesn't set lap records right out of the box. And really, every (new) car in the past has been like that.”
Asked about how it will change the racing, Ganassi said it is too early to project its impact.
Ganassi did address both the lack of a confirmed schedule and two of the three confirmed new or revived rounds (Belle Isle and China, but not Fontana) later in the discussion.
“It's too early to say how the car will impact things, and there's only three ovals from what we're hearing, but that may be a blessing,” Ganassi said.
“With Belle Isle, we have a promoter who's a friendly promoter with the sanctioning bodies, which says a lot for the series and Roger's leadership,” he added. “In terms of China or offshore races, whether it's Japan or China, I think at least Target has always thought, ‘One race is fine; it adds cache.' But I don't think we should look to get three, four or five outside North America. That could start to have a detrimental effect. One or two outside North America is fine for cache.”
Franchitti will be 39 in May 2012, and traditionally has worked his career on one-year contracts. The Scotsman largely avoided the foresight and retirement question, saying as long as he remains competitive, he should continue to be a fixture in the No. 10 Target entry.
“I think if we can get (this car) to the point where we're winning races, then I think we'll be OK,” he said. “I think you'll have to talk to Chip about that, as well. If we're not winning races, it's not going well, I don't want to be around making up the numbers. Chip I know won't want me driving the car if I'm making up the numbers.
“Chris and I and Julian and Eric and every person on the engineering staff, Dixie, the guys at G2, as well, we'll do all we need to to mold the car and get what we need. Scott and I will be working with our engineers, and the other guys will, too, on race weekends to get the thing right. Hopefully we can do that, and we'll see how it works out.”