Dario Franchitti has been one of the stars of the SEMA Show, signing autographs on the BorgWarner stand, accompanied by the BorgWarner trophy which this year he won for the third time in that amazing conclusion to the Indy 500. RACER editor David Malsher caught up with the Target Chip Ganassi Racing star to talk Indy, driving styles, age and motivation.
RACER: Given that we're on the BorgWarner stand, we've got to start with Indianapolis 500. How much of a mental challenge is it going to be for you next year, knowing you're going for win number four, your chance to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears in the ranks of “500” legends?
DF: Regardless of whether I'm going for the first or fourth, on or off the track it wouldn't help to think about it. And I think that's where the mental toughness has to come in, what [former mentor] Sir Jackie Stewart would call “mind management.” It would be easy to get carried away and tie yourself in knots about it but that wouldn't work in our favor at all. So although myself and the team are thinking about the race already and we're discussing it, we're not thinking in terms of what another win would mean to us; we're thinking just in practical terms of how to achieve it. We're going to have our hands full and we'll be fighting the usual suspects again.
This year, how soon after the yellow flew on lap 200 were you thinking, “Wow, that's victory number three,” rather than just, “We've just won the Indy 500!”
Probably not until I crossed the finish line again, because the adrenaline was kicking in to such a degree during that final lap following the near miss at Turn 1 that even my feet were shaking. It was such an intense last lap, and it had been such an intense race coming from the back, so it takes a long time to come down from that state and let your thoughts expand to what you have or haven't achieved.
A different intensity to what you felt after you qualified 16th, I assume. That day you didn't look worried: you just looked mad.
I was SO angry, yeah, because I knew the car was fine – I know what a good car and a bad car feel like around that place, and I knew we had a good-handling car. So I was mad because I knew it was simply down to power: we needed more.
Honda had told us a month before that the revisions to the engine for Indy would be significantly better, but we were using up the miles on the old engine for practice and qualifying. But, Honda weren't lying, were they? Look at how strong it was. From the moment we got the new engines in for Carb Day, the car stayed as well balanced as it had been but we were just miles-an-hour quicker on the straights. It was great, because then we knew we were at least on equal level with the Chevrolet-powered cars.
The number of lead changes during the race – 34 or 35 – obviously attracted a lot of attention because it created a great spectacle. But did you feel that it was a bit too much in terms of how easy it was to draft? Had it become a bit like a flat-out old-school IRL race on 1.5-milers?
Hmm…well it was great seeing all those lead changes but yeah, the fact that when your car was really working well you still couldn't gap anyone was a bit frustrating. Cars that, when they ran up front, were 2mph slower than you, could also get towed along in your wake and draft past. And I think some of that was down to having slightly less horsepower, so there's got to be a balance. Indy has put on some great races and this year was great for the fans, but still I think when you've absolutely nailed a corner or nailed a lap, you should be able to gain an advantage and have something to show for it. And I think that will happen, because the engine manufacturers are not standing still – the horsepower numbers will be up next year, so that should be represented in lap speed and in separating the best from the others.
How much different a style is there around Indianapolis Motor Speedway between the old IRL cars and the Dallara DW12 in terms of the engine's power delivery? Do you pick up the throttle at different points on corner exits?
It's actually almost identical. On the road courses it's a different style and that's evolving in terms of working with Honda to improve in that area. I think with the horsepower being a bit lower at Indy, what it did do is change your racing style in terms of how and where you dealt with traffic: making passes and making them stick required different timing. And of course I learned that from being spun to the back of the field!
Yeah, and from that perspective, was 2012 the best of your three wins?
I don't know if I could pick one. In 2010, we could just drive away – although I have to say, it wasn't easy. Watch the video and I'm working hard and on the ragged edge. I actually glanced the wall exiting Turn 1 one lap. But the car was mighty quick. So from that point of view, it was a good race. In 2007, I had the flat tire, had to come from the back to get into contention again. And then this last one involved a drive through from the rear. So…I guess what I'm saying is that I'm proud of them all.
When you get three Indy 500 wins, do you quit kicking yourself over the ones that got away? You say, “Hey, I got three,” and think that's awesome in itself?
In the famous Green Room before the 500, I tend to sit off to one side and try to get my head in gear, and maybe Tony [Kanaan] will come and sit next to me or I'll be pretty much on my own. But before the 2011 race, A.J. Foyt came and sat next to me. Now, I look up to A.J., but just before the biggest race in the world, it's a bit… “Wow”…to have one of the four-time winners come and sit next to you. And he said to me, “You know, I've won a lot of these.” I say, “Umm, yeah, I know…”. He continues: “There were a lot more I could have won, and there were ones I won that I shouldn't have won. At Indy, when it's your day, it's your day.” And after that race, A.J.'s point really sunk home.
There are ones that I think got away from me, and there are others that I won that other people think got away from them! In 2010, we dominated, but in '07, '11 and '12 there were two or three of us that I felt could win. So I don't want to say, “I should have won this one, I should have won that one,” because you can't change it. It's cast in stone, the results sheet says it all and I'm very happy. You look at someone like Tony or Michael Andretti and…it's incredible how they haven't won there. Tony, I think, can still win at least one. Michael never won one and it had nothing to do with talent or speed; it just never happened. I mean, I also think it's amazing that Mario Andretti and Parnelli Jones only won Indy once. That kind of sums the place up: when it's your day, it's your day, like A.J. said.