After getting mixed results in the opening round of the IndyCar Series season at St. Petersburg, Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti are looking forward to better things from the series’ debut on the streets of Long Beach this weekend.
TCGR has a long history of success at Long Beach as the team raced there every year between 1990-2002 in CART. TCGR won the race four times in 1996, ‘97, ‘98 and ‘99 with Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi and current Target NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya. Coincidentally, every time a TCGR driver has won the GPLB that driver has gone on to win the championship.
Although neither Dixon (who crashed out at St. Pete), nor Franchitti (who finished fourth) has raced at Long Beach since 2002, they both have solid experience of the Southern California track. Dixon won the 2000 Indy Lights race at Long Beach, while Franchitti competed in six CART races at Long Beach (1997-2002). He had a best finish of second in 1998 and ’99.
“I can’t tell you how nice it was to be back in the IndyCar Series,” said Franchitti, who will be back in Target colors this weekend after appearing a special “Air Wick” color scheme at St. Pete. “I got a lot of, ‘Glad you’re back, Dario,’ comments throughout the paddock and from the fans. It was nice to be back for that reason as well, but I think to see the difference in the unified series, both on the track and off, from the fans to the teams to the on-track product, I was very impressed with it.”
Franchitti expanded on his involvement in the fraught start at St. Petersburg that ended up nerfing pole-sitter Graham Rahal at the first corner:
“That was the most fun thing I’ve done in a racecar in some time!” he said of starting fifth and coming out of turn 1 in second. “I got the idea to take the inside line from you brother Marino – he blew by the lot of them in the first corner in 2007 ALMS race by going down the inside. I had my eyes closed at the time, and when I opened them, he showed up in P1 from way back! And I thought to myself, ‘Wow...I’ve got to tuck that one away and use it myself…’
“In the morning I had gone out to practice with cold tires and said, ‘OK, where do I have to brake here on the inside line?’ So I knew exactly what my point was where I had to brake in order to make the corner. Pulling up to the start I got a good, really good run on Tony Kanaan and I was drafting him. By the time I got to the start-finish I was contemplating pulling out. So I start pulling out on Tony and I think for whatever reason he was coming across, he moved over quite a lot; there was definitely something on his outside.
“At that point Graham [Rahal] braked when I was alongside of Tony and I was looking over and I could see the brake marker boards on the outside and I wasn’t anywhere near the point I knew I had to brake yet, so I just waited...and waited...and waited...I was already alongside Graham and Graham saw me there and gave me room. It worked perfectly – I didn’t lock a brake and pulled the pass off just as I’d hoped. I touched the inside curb but that was about it. It was all fairly sort of calm and relaxed. But I heard TK describe it as a ‘dive bomb,’ which wasn’t really true. There was no desperation there; it was planned and worked perfectly.”