It has the hallmarks of a classic, this Dario Franchitti vs. Will Power rivalry. Franchitti hasn't encountered someone so relentlessly fast as Power since he fought Juan Montoya for the CART IndyCar championship well over a decade ago. In Franchitti, Power finds himself battling one of the most consistently formidable drivers in IndyCar history, one who ranks alongside Al Unser Sr. and Jr. for getting the job done pretty much every weekend.
Add to that these facts: They don't like each other, they drive for rival teams (that happen to be the best on the grid), they differ vastly in both driving style and approach to a race, and their strengths are as disparate as the tracks where each rises to pre-eminence. All they share is respect for each other's driving skills and the goal of becoming the IZOD IndyCar Series champion…every year.
Franchitti is cool, calm, unflappable. He's won the IndyCar title three times, including the last two. He's twice won the Indy 500. In the words of one of his former rivals, Gil de Ferran, “He's like a good wine – he just gets better with age.” He sometimes doesn't go to the very edge of his talent because he doesn't need to and experience has taught him that doing that 100 percent of the time isn't the best way to seal a championship. He tends to drive with a smoothness that belies the speed he's traveling, he's one of the gentlest drivers on tires, he brakes with the right foot, he's good at fuel saving and to get the best out of him demands a car with a stable rear end. Oh, and as you'd expect from someone who drives within himself, he makes very few mistakes.
Then there's Power. Impassioned though he can be, it rarely translates into a mistake in the car. If he were to let his heart rule his head, he wouldn't be so icy calm when taking the car up to and beyond its limit during qualifying – an ability that has made him king of the road and street courses over the past couple seasons. On those tracks, in direct contrast to his chief rival, Power left-foot brakes late and hard, using the consequent instability of the rear end to help pivot the car into the apex. Like Dario, though, Will is excellent at fuel saving and perhaps even better at preserving his tires in a race.
They both race clean, too. OK, their collision at Toronto was (to this writer's mind) Franchitti's fault in that he was trying to force open a door that had been only slightly and fleetingly ajar, but generally neither he nor Power go for close-your-eyes-and-pray moves. A large part of that is that both of them are in control and mentally ahead of their cars. That's vital to success in a series where a pit stop strategy that fails to mesh with the way the full-course cautions fall can leave you with a bunch of cars to pass. Power is more assertive at this on road and street courses, while Franchitti is mind-blowingly perfect at oval restarts, whether he's doing it from the front row or farther back.
And for the second year in a row, the IZOD IndyCar Series is pretty much a straight fight between these two and it looks like it's heading down to the wire. What's surprising is that even with five or six rounds to go, no one else really looked in it.
Team Penske president Tim Cindric recalls: “We said at the beginning of the season that, given that we're not really able to make much technical progress with an eight-year-old spec car, there would be more teams in the hunt as they caught up. We've seen that to an extent, in that KV Racing's been more competitive, so has Newman/Haas, and Andretti Autosport has been very quick at times. But with Ganassi going to two additional cars and having Dixon there, and us having Ryan Briscoe and Helio [Castroneves], we didn't expect such a similar scenario as last year.”
Power observes: “It's not through lack of speed that Helio and Ryan aren't right up there in the championship. They've just been caught up in more incidents, whereas Dario and I have had reasonably clean seasons. Reasonably! Dario's the only one who's been pretty much immune apart from that collision with [Takuma] Sato at Loudon.”