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.”That give and take, both on track and off, are critical to the team's success. Since Franchitti joined Ganassi's IndyCar team in 2009, the two have combined for 16 wins, including Dario's Indy 500 and IZOD IndyCar Series championship last year. Overall, they have three Indy 500s, five championships and 49 race wins. TCGR team managing director Mike Hull says most aspects of their success in the past two years involves cooperation.
“We've proven over the years that when you have two guys working as one, they can climb up the grid higher and finish higher,” Hull says. “They get more out of it. They help each other. If there's a doubt in the driver's mind about the racetrack or the setup or anything involved in running the car on the racetrack, he has an ally that is unselfish. When you get that right, it helps the entire team understand what teamwork really means.
“With two drivers, reading the racetrack is the key, no matter how different their driving styles might be. They can tell each other immediately, ‘My right front tire was terrible today' or ‘My right front was really good today' or ‘I had to change my arc in this particular corner.' It's those kinds of things that you get immediately when you have different driving styles. What makes them so good is that they take the time to find out why and how the other guy is faster and how the track contributes to that.”
The Ganassi pilots are not without their differences. One likes a tight racecar while referring to the other as Captain Oversteer. One is meticulous and detailed; the other calls himself lazy. One is the accomplished veteran; the other is the younger prodigy. One makes it look effortless when it's not; the other makes it look more difficult than it should be. The differences are a major part of what makes them so effective.
“You've got to have something or someone pushing you on,” Franchitti says. “You know that if you're having a bad day, you better pick it up because Scott is going to be right there. As long as I've been doing this, I've learned from every teammate I've ever had. Certainly when I was younger that was the case, but it's still true today.”
But if their relationship weren't so positive, what would happen? “It goes right from the two drivers all the way through the team,” Dixon explains. “It goes back to the shop. The subtle teamwork disappears. One side won't offer up a part to the other like they normally would, or they won't make this or that for them. It travels all the way through. I've seen it. If a driver combination doesn't work, it filters down to every single guy on the team.”
There are famous cases of teammates who disliked each other while still being successful: Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell (see sidebar), Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman. But feuds are uncomfortable for all involved, even those on the periphery. In the case of Franchitti and Dixon, it's the opposite. Because the two individuals get along and enjoy each other's company and work cooperatively instead of independently, so, too, do their crews.
“You notice it in the food line – the No. 9 car guys and the No. 10 car guys eating together is a good indication that our two drivers get along,” Hull says. “It's very much a sharing situation without any judgment. It's a pleasure to be lucky enough to be a part of it. We have two drivers who have won the Indianapolis 500 and won IndyCar championships. They've achieved those goals, and they understand that it takes an entire team to get there. When you have one driver who understands that fully, you're blessed. When you have two drivers who get it, then you achieve the kinds of results Target Chip Ganassi Racing has.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the final question of the Dixon/Dario interview – What quality have you picked up from your teammate? – is met with mock sincerity.
Franchitti answers first: “Lice.”
Dixon's laughter is no match for his faked solemnity.
“Dario is my hero,” he says, pretending to gush. “He's everything I've ever wanted to be. But most of all, I like his shoes.”
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the March 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.