The day after the 2009 Indianapolis 500, Dario Franchitti e-mailed a photograph to Scott Dixon. It was an image of Dixon's car squeezing Franchitti's on the exit of Turn 4 during the race, which they both led before falling back and finishing sixth and seventh, respectively.
More than a year and a half later, they sit together and chuckle at the thought. “Man, I was pissed that day,” Dixon says, sending a wry smile in the direction of his teammate, who recalls the photo and returns the smile.
“You look at the photo and think it's just one car,” Franchitti remembers. “Then you look closer and go, ‘Wait, there's another car in there!' Our wheels are interlocked, and I'm hard against the wall.”
Both cars and drivers emerged unscathed, the photo being all that remains of the incident. After seeing it, Franchitti asked Dixon what he was thinking. His answer was simple: “I expected you to lift.”
Uproarious laughter between the two quiets down as more memories of the incident emerge. They had both encountered trouble in the pits, so both were upset at the time. Both had victory in sight but had fallen behind. Both were fighting with all they had to chase down eventual winner Helio Castroneves.
But did they talk about the near-miss immediately after the race? Well, not really. “We went out drinking,” Dixon says, smiling again at his teammate.
“Yeah, we did,” Franchitti recalls. “The funny thing is, I didn't even think about the incident until the next day. It didn't cross my mind until I saw the photo.”
The moral of the story? It's good to like your teammate. Those who get along generally perform better than those who don't. Cooperative teammates benefit a team's overall performance, while feuding or unfriendly teammates damage a team's chances. True, teammates are always competing against one another, but when they work together, an aura of beneficial cooperation often leads to positive results. The proof can be found at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, where a Scot and a Kiwi with seemingly little in common have found common ground.
“We drive completely different styles, but we still can learn from each other,” Franchitti explains. “The fact that we get on definitely makes it a much more pleasant work environment. You come to the track and have a good time, but there is that competition. Scott always wants to beat me, and I always want to beat him. He's the most competitive person I've ever met. That's good because it keeps you going and keeps you pushing. But you do it in an open way. It's an open book with us. You can want to beat somebody while actually still being friends with them.”
That friendliness begets sharing. While much can be deciphered from data shared between teammates and their engineers, the spoken word is essential to the complete understanding of what each driver does on track.
“Styles are very prominent in data, so it really helps us to talk about it,” Dixon says. “Even talking about certain corners can help. A lot of times, Dario has one corner down over everyone else, and you can even see it on the data. You can see what he's doing with charts and graphs – braking, throttle and steering data – but sometimes the actual line he's taking is tough to work out. That's when you talk about it.”
Dixon says he learned how to race on 1.5-mile ovals from Dan Wheldon, Dixon's Ganassi teammate from 2006 to '08. Franchitti says he borrowed on those secrets from watching Dixon. Thus, the secret is out: “I've learned more on mile-and-a-half tracks just by following you,” Franchitti tells Dixon. “I just like seeing what you get away with.”
Dixon responds in kind. “On street courses, if you're bloody quick in one corner, I'll try to get in a position where I can follow you and hopefully see where you go on the track.”