By now, the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series championship is yesterday's news. Dario Franchitti chased down Will Power during the final four races of the season – all on oval tracks – and secured the title when Power brushed the wall in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But that's only the story we saw. What was behind the scenes? What dynamics were in play between the veteran and the relative newcomer and between Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Verizon Team Penske? What do the two drivers involved in the championship battle think about the events that led them to that point? After the dust had settled, we decided to ask them.
What was the pivotal moment in the championship battle?
Dario: I could see Mid-Ohio was a good race for us. We struggled on the road courses, but we'd got more of a handle on the car in Mid-Ohio. Looking back on it, that was the turning point, but the last four races were where we really started to catch Will.
Will: I would say Chicagoland was probably the biggest hit we had in points. We went from leading at the last pit stop, with 30 laps to go, to finishing 16th. Dario came out in front and won and we had to pit again for fuel. That was a big points loss.
Likewise, was there a moment during the season when you thought the other guy had the championship in the bag?
Dario: There were points at which I realized we might not win the championship. All we could do was work harder and push harder. There was no point in getting stressed about it. We just kept moving forward.
Will: I always knew it was going to come down to the last race. I knew the last four races were on ovals and one of them I hadn't ever raced on. I knew it would be tight, but I thought I'd be competitive. And we were: we just weren't quite there. Something always caught us out. The details caught us out.
Is it more difficult to be engaged in a championship battle against a team that has one more car than you?
Dario: Some days it was a positive, and some days negative. We definitely saw both this year. It's an advantage for Penske in terms of feedback and data gained. Any information you can get on track is key. The negative part is if you go down the wrong road with setup, you continue farther down the wrong road.
Was it an advantage? It seemed like Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves were engaging Dario as often as possible.
Will: I would say it probably helped at Motegi. At some of the other races, it was hard for all three of us to have good races at the same time. Ryan fought very hard at Motegi. Having two teammates is an advantage from the perspective that you can really work on the car setup.
What advantage did Scott Dixon provide? Was he a crucial part of this championship?
Dario: For me, it is the same thing as it was last year: Scott and I push each other to the absolute limit each week. We always work closely together but we're always trying to beat the other guy. That pushes you on. I've learned from him and he's learned from me.
Then, when it became a two-horse race, Scott changed from a championship challenger to helping me win it. That was a very big assistance. In Sonoma, he attacked Will with everything he had. Some of that was trying to be in the title fight himself and some of it was knowing I was in it, too.Will:
In the last race, Dixon certainly helped Dario. Dario had a few friends out there on the track who could make it a little difficult for us, but I can't think of an instance near the end where Scott engaged us. Except maybe Kentucky.
Critique the oval skills of Will Power.
Dario: [Laughing] I don't think he needs any help. He's obviously a very good road and street driver. He upped his game this year. We had the measure of him in 2009 on road and street courses, but this year he was much better on the ovals. At Indianapolis, he was very good and I think he's going to be very tough to beat on ovals in the future.
Will: I don't really need to make much more progress on ovals. I can't think of a time, other than Kansas, when I wasn't running at the front. It's just a matter of finishing. We were in situations this year where, for whatever reason, we didn't finish properly on ovals. I'm not concerned about my ability. I can race anyone out there. I can be as fast as anyone. The team and I just have to pull it together. No mistakes. I'm not concerned about it. I feel like we'll be very strong on ovals next year.