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Dario Franchitti has won each of the last four IZOD IndyCar Series championships he?s contested.
But his chief rival of the past two years, Will Power, has won three of the first four events this season and vaulted handily into the points lead. Meanwhile, Franchitti sits in seventh place, more than a full race behind.
Suggest that Franchitti is struggling, though, and he?ll have none of it.
?Let?s remember here, who won the Indy 500,? he quips in response.
He?s quite correct ? the addition of a third Indianapolis win has rendered his already-impressive dossier positively imposing. He?s a modern-day legend in his own right.
He does confess, though, that the new chassis being used by the IZOD IndyCar Series this year has changed the game.
?We just haven?t quite hit the nail on the head with the setup yet,? Franchitti says. ?It?s teething problems. I think the Target team, we realize that we?ve got to go out and earn it, and past success is no guarantee of results. But I also think people put larger expectations on us than are practical. The advantage that we?ve enjoyed these past years was very pleasing but is very tough to achieve all the time.?
Another new aspect to the Series this year is the return of engine manufacturer competition, which has also brought its challenges.
?I?ve never won an IndyCar race with anything other than a Honda in the back of my car,? Franchitti points out, ?so I was definitely confident that Chip (Ganassi, Franchitti?s team owner) had made the right decision to go with Honda. For the first three, four races, we struggled a little bit.
?During Indy qualifying, we weren?t great. But then the Honda guys said, ?don?t worry, the new specification that?s coming for the race is a step up,? and it really was. It?s a very tough competition between the manufacturers.
?One week one has the upper hand, and the next week it?s the other. That to me is something that IndyCar has been missing. Also, having the turbocharged engines back is something the fans have been asking for a long time, so it?s good that we?ve managed to do all of those things.?
Despite all these changes, Franchitti expects this year?s Honda Indy Toronto to be much the same as it has been for the last several years: packed with hard driving, action, and drama.
?I?ve seen more contact in the races leading up to it than I ever have,? he observes, ?and I think some of it is that the new car is more sturdy, the design of the body work. I think we?re also getting used to the dimensions of this new car: the fact that the nose is longer than the old car, that we?ve got these pontoons behind the rear wheels. I would expect a fairly aggressive race up there.?
As always, Franchitti anticipates returning to Toronto with a heavy dose of nostalgia and enthusiasm.
?That first win up there in ?99 was very special,? he recalls. ?The year before, I?d been leading it by quite a bit and had a brake issue in Turn 1 and crashed. There was a bit of young exuberance there. I shouldn?t have been pushing quite as hard with a 15-second lead. That first one was special ? all the wins were ? but getting the pole position in 1998, too, I remember the reaction from the crowd on that one. The crowd up in Toronto is always so enthusiastic. That?s one of the reasons I love racing in Canada so much.?
Despite seemingly having little left to prove as a driver, Franchitti shows no signs of slowing down.
?I still love racing,? he says. ?I love winning. I love trying to win. Winning is the end result, but I love that competition. And when that eventually stops, I?ll give up. But as long as I?m competitive and as long as I?m enjoying it, I?m going to keep going.?
For those who enjoy observing legendary talent in action, this is excellent news indeed.
The Honda Indy Toronto, which will once again run through the streets of Exhibition Place, is now only two weeks away. For the third year in a row, the Ontario Honda Dealers Association is footing the bill for Free Friday on July 6, allowing race fans to sample the day?s practice sessions free of charge (though donations to Make-A-Wish Canada are appreciated). The Firestone Fast Six knockout qualifying session runs on Saturday, July 7, and race day falls on Sunday, July 8.
Ticket sales and more information can be found at www.hondaindytoronto.com.