As if he never left


As if he never left

Franchitti takes checkered flag

By DAVE KALLMANN, Journal Sentinel

Monday, July 26, 2004

West Allis — Never once did Dario Franchitti doubt he’d be back behind the wheel of a race car or back in victory lane.

His teammates knew too, deep down, that anyone who’d questioned Franchitti’s desire, who thought his heart might not truly be in competing in the all-oval Indy Racing League, were wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Still, it’d been one back surgery and almost two years since the Scotsman had experienced a day quite as enjoyable as Sunday or a race that went as well as the Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225.

So yes, Franchitti noticed some rust . . . when it came to turning doughnuts to celebrate on the Milwaukee Mile’s front stretch.

“Alex Zanardi is going to be at home, if he’s watching, just shaking his head and wondering how I ever managed to beat him in a race,” Franchitti said of the two-time CART champion who set the all- time standard for spinning after winning.

“That was pathetic out there.”

Still, the “extremely lame effort” was the worst thing that happened to Franchitti all day as the IRL concluded its first trip to historic State Fair Park.

Franchitti’s Andretti Green Racing Honda-powered Dallara “came to life” after his first pit stop, he posted the fastest lap of the race, led the most laps and pulled away comfortably after a late restart.

Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice finished second, 0.6590 of a second behind in a G Force-Honda, with Sam Hornish Jr. third in a Dallara-Toyota. Series leader Tony Kanaan was fourth, giving Andretti Green two cars in the top four, and pole-sitter Vitor Meira, Rice’s teammate, ended up fifth.

“The best cars went to the front today, without a doubt,” Rice said. “That’s the whole thing on these handling tracks.

“If it would have stayed green, we might have had a little bit better chance, because of the way we were working traffic and the way our cars were on long runs. . . . But, you know, Dario was strong today.”

Franchitti led a race-high 111 laps, including the final 71 after jumping Hornish on a restart.

During the fourth of five caution periods, the leaders made their final pit stop and Hornish won the race off pit road. The two-time series champion’s first restart was waved off, and Franchitti got him with an inside move into Turn 1 on the second try.

“I thought if we could keep the lead on the restart, that would be a big benefit,” Hornish said. “The first one we did, but everybody kind of got jumbled up. Then the guys behind me knew what I was going to do.”

Franchitti, who blamed the jumble on Hornish’s slow pace, pulled away and then endured one restart, himself, after Jaques Lazier crashed on Lap 212. The race went green again with six laps to go, and Franchitti set sail again.

“I had a pretty nice lead at that point, but I was being held up pretty badly by (Alex) Barron,” Franchitti said. “When I actually got the caution, I was relieved in a way, because it got him out of my way.”

Franchitti’s victory concluded a tremendous turnaround for the Andretti Green team, whose entire roster of engineers and four drivers left the June 16-17 open test baffled about the set-up for the Mile.

“We were doing lap times in the race I couldn’t have dreamed of doing in the test,” Franchitti said.

“When we came back here, they completely turned the set-up upside down. From the first runs, we kind of knew we were looking for small things, not for miracles.”

Winning also capped a comeback for Franchitti, who sat out all but three races last year after suffering a fractured vertebra in a motorcycle crash in his homeland. Franchitti rehabilitated after the April accident and raced once before deciding to undergo season- ending surgery.

Franchitti, 31, grew up in road racing, and critics questioned if he returned just for the paycheck or if he would be willing to take the risks required to win in an all-oval series. But team owner Michael Andretti never doubted.

“It’s just so funny to listen to people,” said Andretti, a five- time Mile winner in his driving days. “Never once did we ever think that Dario’s heart wasn’t in it. This guy has been giving everything since he got back in the car.”

Finally Sunday, Franchitti got paid back.



INDY 225

West Allis

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (7) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 225, $107,900. 2. (3) Buddy Rice, Panoz G Force-Honda, 225, $82,900. 3. (4) Sam Hornish Jr., Dallara-Toyota, 225, $69,600. 4. (2) Tony Kanaan, Dallara- Honda, 225, $56,500. 5. (1) Vitor Meira, Panoz G Force-Honda, 225, $61,600. 6. (12) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Chevrolet, 225, $45,600. 7. (15) Alex Barron, Dallara-Chevrolet, 225, $46,400. 8. (6) Adrian Fernandez, Panoz G Force-Honda, 224, $45,300. 9. (11) Bryan Herta, Dallara-Honda, 224, $43,300. 10. (20) Kosuke Matsuura, Panoz G Force- Honda, 223, $42,000.

11. (14) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevrolet, 223, $40,800. 12. (5) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Toyota, 222, $49,600. 13. (13) Felipe Giaffone, Dallara-Chevrolet, 221, $39,500. 14. (16) Mark Taylor, Panoz G Force-Honda, 221, $37,100. 15. (19) Scott Sharp, Dallara- Toyota, 218, $36,500. 16. (18) A.J. Foyt IV, Dallara-Toyota, 214, $34,900. 17. (9) Jaques Lazier, Dallara-Chevrolet, 205, accident, $33,600. 18. (21) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 147, mechanical, $33,600. 19. (10) Darren Manning, Panoz G Force-Toyota, 143, accident, $32,400. 20. (17) Tora Takagi, Dallara-Toyota, 110, electrical, $31,800.

21. (8) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Chevrolet, 32, gearbox, $31,300. 22. (22) Scott Dixon, Panoz G Force-Toyota, 0, DNS, $31,300.

Race Statistics

Time of race: 1 hour, 46 minute, 49.4110 seconds. Margin of victory: 0.6590 of a second.

Winner’s average speed: 128.272 mph. Caution flags: 5 for 39 laps. Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers. Lap leaders: Kanaan 1-16, Hornish 17- 42, Herta 43-80,Castroneves 81-105, Franchitti 106-113, Castroneves 114, Franchitti115-146, Hornish 147-154, Franchitti 155-225.

Point standings: 1. Kanaan, 357. 2. Rice, 293. 3. Wheldon, 276.4. Castroneves, 260. 5. Hornish, 235. 6. Franchitti, 226. 7. Dixon,200. 8. Meira, 200. 9. Manning, 199. 10. Herta, 199.

Copyright 2004 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not

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Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.

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