Q & A with Dario Franchitti
Q: You've got to have a little bit of fun with this. You are the oldest champion in IndyCar Series history. Why don't you talk about your day out there.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it obviously started when we managed to qualify on the pole and take the front row for team Target. That was just a great effort by the team. My guys – we weren't that quick in practice, and my guys, Chris Simmons and Brad Goldberg and the boys on the engineering side, together took an estimated, a guess, on what we would need to do the qualifying, and that was spot on.
But our reset was also a little bit of a guess on our side of the car, because we weren't that good in practice. You could see that Scott [Dixon] and Ryan [Briscoe] were quicker because the car was a little out of bounds. So pretty early on I decided my only option was going to be – I couldn't stay with them, so I was going to have to start thinking about saving fuel. Luckily, Chip and the boys in the stand were having the same thought. The first stint we pitted, and we made an adjustment. It was a small adjustment.
From then on the car was great, and the track came to us a little cooler, but we were already four seconds back. So from pretty much from that point on we were save fuel, save fuel, yeah, that's a good lap speed. And I was thinking, well, that's as quick as I can go, so it was a good lap speed. I was trying some different stuff.
In traffic it was pretty tough. We seemed to be lapping a lot of cars, and it was very difficult with the heat and everything, the temperature, the cars were sliding around a lot, having to stretch our equipment, so was able to do that. And because it really played into our strategy, I would have loved to gone an extra one and chase those guys down, but that wasn't our plan. Luckily having two cars in the championship fight, with Scott and myself, we managed to split strategy. And for me, my one worked out.
Q. How about the whole season as a whole as you reflect back on your year, coming back to IndyCar racing?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I didn't think I'd win five races and a championship in my first year back. I knew driving for team Target, I'd have good equipment, just a question of could I get back into it and compete at a level that I had already, because Scott is a better driver than he was in '07, and Ryan came in every single week, as well as other people who made appearances and won races, but it just seemed that Scott and Ryan every week were tough competition.
From that second win at Long Beach, the winner in the second race at Long Beach, I knew we could get it done. If there was any regrets, I guess it was at Indy. We felt Scott and I had winning cars and we didn't execute, so it took us some weeks to make up for that.
Q. I noticed you struggled with traffic for a while, but you got behind (Hideki) Mutoh for a little while, then that's when that big gap kind of opened up. Is that when you decided, now I've got to save fuel?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, that was frustrating. Indy drivers talk about holding their line, and that wasn't the case there. I got pretty badly chopped in both directions, and that allowed the other guys to disappear, but you kind of get used to that. And then the rear half of the car was not good. We managed to get it better, and it was good in traffic on the position where I wanted. Unfortunately by that point, we were a fair ways back but ultimately that allowed us to do what we did.
Q. After the Nationwide race at Talladega in April, you had to just kind of sit there and go, what next, in your stockbroker's suits. Was there a point at all during the summer where you really kind of wondered what you would be doing this year before Chip offered you the IndyCar ride?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely. Chip had come a couple of times and said something like, "Hey, we could do an IndyCar deal," and that was that.
And then we had that secret phone call when he called me one morning. He told me that we were closing the team down because he couldn't continue to pay out of pocket. It was going to bring the whole team down, and that was a pretty tough call for him to make. A lot of people lost their jobs at a bad time.
I wondered what was going to happen. I had some offers to do some sports car stuff. From about May onwards, I had kind of been getting this hankering on for the speedway. When I had my broken ankle I kind of worked around it, and it got me thinking about coming back. I'm the kind of person when I do something, I immerse myself in it and I've immersed myself in NASCAR.
So Chip and I had been talking about various options for this year. I went to Detroit to watch my brother race and to talk with Chip about my options. The most bizarre thing, we agreed to the deal, two minutes, 30 minutes, and then we argued for about eight hours on this stupid point. And Chip went to dinner and Mike [Hull] and I sorted it out with my manager. That was pretty much it.
I said already, I've got to thank Chip and those boys. He sat me down and grilled me pretty hard in Detroit: Why do I want to come back to IndyCar? Was I up for the challenge and ready to do it again and give 100 percent? I'm just glad they invited me back to come and play. I really enjoyed it. I wanted to be part of the unified series, the places we get to race at and the people I get to race against and the cars I get to drive. It's pretty cool.
Q. Along those same thought lines, what persuaded you to go to NASCAR in the very first place? You're sitting on top of this world; what made you go over there?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I was sitting in this situation, this was a little before this in '07, and I always asked myself, am I ready for next year, what do I want to do next year. And there was no answer to that one. I asked myself, what do I want to do. Normally it's like, yep, keep going. I was like, I'm not really sure I'm going to have the motivation to do this again. So I looked around for something else.
What a strange thing because Chip was wanting somebody for one of his cars, and ultimately it didn't work out. But then again, it ultimately brought us to this point, so it's pretty cool.
Q. Along those same lines, you had it pretty tough there; the start of the season did not go as you would have envisioned it, and I don't know, that was maybe one of the roughest times in your career. Does that make this championship any more emotional? Does it make this one anything extra having gone from that to this in that time frame?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It has a certain sweetness, absolutely, to have gone through that. I've been very lucky in my career, involved with great teams, great sponsors, and our team has always operated with equipment that could allow me to win.
We all went to NASCAR, and we did pretty well in Cup. But '08 was a tough season. This is something that's happened to my friends a lot, had teams lose drivers because of lack of sponsorship, and it was the first thing that happened to me, and it was a good lesson. It was a good lesson, just kind of what the other side of the fence looks like.
Q. A couple things, Dario. One, you spoke about this being 2009, 10 years after 1999, and what it means to you. Can you expound on that? And also, could you expound on working with the first year chief engineer like Chris Simmons, who is a former driver?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: We'll talk about Chris first. Chris and I have known each other since I first signed up for the team. If you ask Chris, I stole his ride. The fact that he's given me good cars all year, I've got to thank him for that.
I've generally had engineers that were a little bit older than me. To have one roughly the same age is a new experience, and he is a relatively inexperienced team engineer. But he did just a fabulous job all year, along with the whole engineering staff at Target. Team Target worked very well, and all the guys on the team, as well, and all these guys I've known for years, what great guys.
Again, I've been lucky to have good engineers over the years, really good engineers that taught me a lot, and I was able to bring some of that knowledge this year. So yeah, I couldn't be happier with the job he has done, and the whole engineering side has done a fabulous job. The success that these guys have, there's a reason that Target wins so much.
On to Greg (Moore). You know, 10 years ago, we were with Team Green, and it came down to Fontana. I don't really think about that as far as oh, my God, I lost the championship this day. It will be ten years ago in a couple of weeks. I think about Greg Moore all the time. But especially – when I go to Fontana and then come here I always think about it. He won his last race here. We had the party to end all parties after that one. That was quite something.
I really don't know what to say. We lost a great guy that day. It's tough to talk about it quite a lot. You sit and think, if he was here today we'd be finishing second.
Q. This is your second IndyCar Series championship. Could you kind of compare this, how important this was to you to win this? And of course you're very competitive, but how does this compare to your first championship?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Chip prefers this one. How does it compare is tough. It hasn't really sunk in yet. In '07 there was a lot of satisfaction in getting that one done. And now to come back from where we were a year ago. I think that's what makes it sweeter is we've got everybody together, and you've got a more balanced schedule, as well.
That gives me really a lot of satisfaction, having to beat guys like – look down the list. Look at the drivers we're competing against, Ryan and certainly Scott at the top of that. To beat those guys and to beat Scott on team equipment –you beat Scott Dixon, you've had a great day. But you've got to push like hell to get one over on him.
Q. Chip was talking about the team drivers that – I might be paraphrasing, hold back that 1 percent. He said that you and Scott did not do that. How do you not do it, I mean, when the stakes are so high? Did you ever race for a team where you either did hold back or did what other people do?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: What do you mean?
Q. What I understood what he said is they did not share everything, that was my understanding. Hold back information from your team. That 1 percent, how hard is it to go over that hump, and then did you ever race for a team where you thought people did hold back?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's a trust issue, and it's something you develop, and I was lucky enough with Paul Tracy to develop that. The first guy I developed it with was Brian Snider. He said, we want to beat each other, but in order to beat each other we have to work together, and we ended up being great friends. I was lucky enough with Paul (Tracy), with Michael (Andretti). Michael took a little time, but we got there. And then it became part of the plan with Tony (Kanaan), Bryan (Herta), Dan (Wheldon), Marco, Danica, all those guys.
At first Scott was maybe just a touch guarded, but it was a full set of information going back and forth to the point we'd actually talk about certain corners, if you drive the car here, you can do this, it goes through really quick, help around the corner. There's one track, I don't remember which one it was, and we were joking that we could have a car with two seats and two steering wheels because he was very good through the first and not very good through the second and I was crap through the first part and great through the second. We work very, very well together.
Q. You mentioned that a couple years ago you were kind of wondering if you had kind of lost a step, and I was wondering if – there was a couple crashes just before you went to NASCAR, I don't know if you want to talk about it, but the media kind of was wondering if that had some effect on you and if that was part of your decision to go to NASCAR.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: My decision was motivation, nothing to do with the crashes. And anybody that took the trouble to ask me that question, I told them that. It had nothing to do with those crashes. I just didn't want to do it. But that wasn't the case.
Q. Just talk about Briscoe and Dixon. Those two guys today did everything they could possibly do to win this and at some point had an uh‑oh moment and realized that you were smarter or the team put yourselves in that position. Do you have empathy for what they were going through realizing that they ran really a tremendous race?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think those guys did a great job. It was crucial because I think if we would have been more balanced in that first stint I would have been right up there with them. But again, I think they did everything right, and I think we did everything right today, we just had different strategies going on. We got some luck, too. You've got to have luck to win a championship, and you can look back and look at every race we've done this year, the ones I've thrown away through bad luck or mistakes by myself, the team, whatever, we've all done it. It's a whole season's worth of points get you to this situation.
Q. To be sitting up there now, you'd think maybe the whole NASCAR thing, maybe I shouldn't have done it, maybe I should have just stayed right where I was, and I mean, even though you said it was worth taking a stab, but coming back to this series, how did you have to adapt to it coming back, and when you think about the NASCAR experience and that not working out, what was your thinking about, okay, I know I could come back to the IndyCar Series, but how do I strike it up? How do I adapt to what I left behind, if that makes sense.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I wouldn't change anything, and I've said that all along. I wouldn't change the decisions I made. I got to go do something completely different, have a bit of a holiday and realize what I was missing and come back and come back with the best team in the paddock.
I learned things as a driver. I got out – to drive in stock car, I got out of my comfort zone, and I learned a lot of new things, and there's things that I can apply to IndyCar. That's made me a better driver, I think.
I'm absolutely where I should be. I should be in IndyCars. That is what I grew up to do, race in the IndyCar Series. I wouldn't change my decision I made.
Q. Who did you want to win this championship more for, yourself or for your team?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, we win and lose as a team. I know it's a bit trite, but we win and lose as a team. In the garage after Indy, you see the look on those guys' face, to get it done for the whole Target team, because we're one team. To get that done and to finish one‑two in the championship, it certainly makes it very sweet.
I love being part of a team, I really – people think sometimes this is an individual sport, but this is a team sport, and I love being part of a team. When a team is working well, it's a great thing. It's a cool thing to be a part of.
Q. At the end of the race, it probably became very apparent to you that you were going to have fuel and those guys were going to have to pit again. Would you have guessed that this race was going to go caution free, however, and what were you thinking those last ten laps? Were you just kind of expecting any time now it was going to come out or just your emotions there at the end when you knew they were going to have to pit but yet there hadn't been a caution and that was kind of crazy.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I was hoping there wouldn't be a caution. I knew pretty much from the start of that last stint, we knew the position everybody was in. I was just hoping there wasn't going to be that caution. If it had been in the last five laps, we would have finished under yellow, because those crashes, it takes quite a while to clean them up. I'm glad it finished under green. What was the record? Was that record speed today? It must have been.
THE MODERATOR: Second. California in '03 was 207.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Was that caution‑free?
THE MODERATOR: One.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's got a history if you look at the caution summaries we do at our strategy meetings, there's not a lot of cautions. And with the tricky conditions I think it was surprising because the cars were sliding a lot, and our cars were handling better than most, and I was catching it sometimes off of 2 and 4, big slides at the corners, and I could see that other people were doing the same. They would have done a good job of hanging on to them today.
Q. Two years ago you had a deal with Scott that no matter who won you guys were going to meet for a drink. He was bummed out; he stood you up. Tonight he says he's not going to stand you up. How important is this going to be to share it with your teammates who came so close to winning a championship?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Ryan is coming out, too. He assured us he's coming out, too. We had a deal, look, no matter who wins it, we'll go and have a beer tonight. TK (Tony Kanaan) is coming out, too. There's always a rumor that TK is paying. He pays all the time; he's his own worst enemy. TK is always the first man to reach for his credit card.
It's very important to celebrate it with Scott. We have this attitude as a team, and I'll go back to Tony, it's an attitude that him and I had, too; some days you're going to be better than me, some days what you choose is going to work out better, and we've had that attitude all season, and we've pushed each other on. It's always in a positive, forward‑looking manner.
It's like, good job, man. I'm going to have to go home and think about it and come back stronger, and we've done that all season. He's a great teammate, and I love working with him, and hopefully we can do it again next year.