Dario Franchitti was an established star in the CART-sanctioned Indy car series long before he made his first Indianapolis 500 start in 2002. The native of Edinburgh, Scotland now boasts two Indy victories in eight attempts at IMS and is a perennial favorite to win the ‘500.’
After an inauspicious Indianapolis debut, Franchitti missed the race the following year due to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident, but returned in 2004 to earn the first of his four front row starts for the ‘500.’ Dario finished sixth in 2005 and seventh a year later, but 2007 proved to be his breakthrough Indy car season. Franchitti won the rain-shortened Indianapolis 500 and used that momentum as a springboard toward the first of his three IZOD IndyCar Series championships.
The rain that afflicted the 2007 Indy 500 made the race a strategic crapshoot. Franchitti led laps 74-89 but was well back in the pack when the race was red-flagged for rain after 113 laps.
Teams were not allowed to work on their cars during the rain delay, but several elected to immediately pit during the two yellow-flag laps that preceded the restart. Franchitti restarted in fifth place but was forced to stop because his Andretti Green Racing entry sustained a punctured tire during the caution laps prior to the red flag.
“That was the ‘strategy’ that won us the race,” Franchitti said. “I’m pretty happy right now about that!”
Franchitti dropped to 13th place after his Lap 114 pit stop, but he now had about 20 laps more fuel than the leaders, who had last stopped around Lap 90.
As teams monitored their fuel levels, they also watched the storm front rolling in from the west. The leaders started pitting around Lap 135, about 15 minutes before the rain looked likely to hit. Franchitti had worked up to seventh by then and made his own green flag stop on Lap 143, emerging in third place.
The turning point came on Lap 150 when Marty Roth crashed in Turn 1. AGR called Kanaan in and the pack duly followed – all but Franchitti and Scott Dixon who took over at the front of the field.
A series of accidents meant there was only one more lap of green flag racing before a major shower brought out the yellow and checkered flags after 166 laps (415 miles). It was the seventh Indianapolis race that didn’t run the scheduled 500 miles.
“I had to fight my way back through the pack,” Franchitti recalled. “That was exciting, but I managed to get through the traffic pretty quickly and get back up into contention. Then the strategy – the roll of the dice – proved to be the lucky one. There was a certain amount of luck involved, but that doesn’t diminish what we accomplished. We put ourselves in the right place and it worked out for us.”
Franchitti missed the 2008 Indianapolis 500 as he pursued a NASCAR career. He rejoined the IndyCar Series in 2009 with Target Ganassi Racing and went on to win his second and third IndyCar titles in 2009 and 2010.
At Indianapolis in 2009, Dario led 50 laps but was waved out from a Lap 134 pit stop with the fuel hose still attached to his Dallara-Honda. Franchitti stopped in time to prevent a pit fire catastrophe, but the slow stop dropped him to ninth place and he was only able to recover two positions.
However, in 2010, Franchitti dominated the ‘500,’ leading 155 of 200 laps on the way to victory. He later reflected on his experiences at ‘The Brickyard.’
“When I first showed up at Indianapolis it was like, ‘This is just another race,’ he said. “But the more I’ve done it, the more I appreciate the ‘500’ and the history of the whole thing comes into play. Winning the first one in 2007 put it all on a different level. To me it’s more than just a race now, and to be in the club, as Bobby Rahal puts it, is a dream come true - a lifetime ambition. It’s a great race, a wonderful track, and an unbelievable facility.
“I enjoy the history of the sport and it’s very important to be on the list of winners and everything that stands for. If you talk to any guy who’s been part of a team that won there, they say the same thing. It’s not just the drivers; I still talk about it with the guys from Andretti Green in ’07 and the Target team from last year. They just light up with pride. They wear their rings when they go out to a function and it means so much to them. Had I just won it in ’07 the memories would still be with me, but winning it again made it all the more special. They showed me a list of two time winners, and those guys are legends. I still can’t believe I’m part of that group.”
But there may be one Indianapolis moment that stands out for Franchitti even more than his two wins in the Indy 500. On September 21, 2010, Dario had the opportunity to drive his hero’s car - Jim Clark’s Indy-winning 1965 Lotus 38 - at IMS.
“That was pretty special,” Franchitti said. “It was a lifetime dream to drive that car, and to drive it here at the Speedway was incredible. My only regret in driving the car was that I couldn’t be standing in the pits listening to it go past, because the noise of the 4-cam Ford is just incredible.”
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