November 14, 2013 | By Bruce Martin
Dario Franchitti's Racing Career Ends
One of the greatest champions in the Indianapolis 500 and one of the legendary names in IndyCar racing will race no more.
Dario Franchitti announced on Thursday, November 14 that his racing career is over.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time IndyCar Series Champion will be unable to continue his racing career because of injuries suffered in a horrific last-lap crash in the second race of the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston on October 6. Franchitti was involved in a last-lap crash with Takuma Sato and the collision sent his Dallara/Honda airborne and into the tire fence. The impact ripped away the fence and sent debris into the spectators and a wheel over the wall, but none of the spectators were seriously injured.
Franchitti suffered a concussion, spinal fracture and a fractured ankle in the crash and had every intention of continuing his racing career after surgery to repair the damage.
But the 40-year-old driver from Scotland is taking the advice of his physicians and ending his glorious career with 31 victories (tied for eighth on the all-time list) and 33 poles (sixth on the all-time list).
“Since my racing accident in Houston, I have been in the expert care of some of the leading doctors and nurses, all of whom have made my health, my safety and my recovery their top priority,” Franchitti said. “I am eternally grateful for the medical care I have received over the last several weeks. I'd also like to thank my family and friends for their unbelievable support.
“One month removed from the crash and based upon the expert advice of the doctors who have treated and assessed my head and spinal injuries post accident, it is their best medical opinion that I must stop racing. They have made it very clear that the risks involved in further racing are too great and could be detrimental to my long-term well-being. Based on this medical advice, I have no choice but to stop.”
The popular driver has already achieved greatness and a place in Indianapolis 500 history that puts him in the same category as A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford, Helio Castroneves, Bobby Unser, Louis Meyer, Mauri Rose and Wilbur Shaw as the only drivers to win the Indy 500 three or more times.
He won his first Indianapolis 500 and the series championship in 2007 for Andretti Autosport and spent a season out of IndyCar racing as he attempted a switch to NASCAR. But the lure of the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar brought Franchitti back in 2009 to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing where he scored three more IndyCar titles and Indy 500 wins in 2010 and 2012.
Along with Castroneves, Franchitti appeared to have all the ingredients to join Foyt, Al Unser and Mears as the next four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
“Racing has been my life for over 30 years and it's really tough to think that the driving side is now over,” Franchitti said. “I was really looking forward to the 2014 season with Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with a goal of winning a fourth Indianapolis 500 and a fifth IndyCar Series championship.
“I'd like to thank all my fellow competitors, teammates, crew and sponsors for their incredible support over the course of this amazing ride. I'd also like to thank Hogan Racing, Team KOOL Green and Andretti Green Racing for the opportunities to compete on the racetrack, and especially Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who have become like a family to me since I joined their team back in 2008. I would be remiss if I didn't thank all my fans around the world. I can't thank you enough for standing by my side for all these years.”
Franchitti’s teammate, Scott Dixon, won the 2013 IndyCar Series championship, which was the 10th IndyCar, title for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. He had spoken with Franchitti after his surgeries and was confident he would be back in the cockpit for 2014.
“Dario is a true legend in the sport,” Dixon said. “More importantly, I can call him a best friend. There are very few people that have achieved as much in auto racing and knowing Dario, he won’t go far as IndyCar racing is in his blood and I am sure he will stay involved somehow. ”
The team now moves forward with Dixon, Charlie Kimball and newcomer to the team Tony Kanaan. It is unclear if a fourth driver will be hired to take over the No. 10 entry at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, although Ryan Briscoe could be a driver available for that ride.
That will be solved in the coming weeks but the team is dealing with Franchitti’s career-ending decision.
“Dario Franchitti has done so much for Target Chip Ganassi Racing so it will be very disappointing to not see him in our cars next season,” team owner Chip Ganassi said. “But simply put, Dario is a motorsports legend and will be sorely missed on the race track by everyone in the paddock and in the stands. His contributions to the sport of motor racing are too many to list but I can tell you that they go way beyond what he has done on the track.
“What’s both impressive and unique about Dario is that he has always been a student of racing, someone who not only appreciates the actual science of the sport but also the rich heritage of those racers that have gone before him. This news only serves as the start of next chapter in Dario Franchitti’s racing career – which I expect will be here with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.”
“You pinch yourself everyday as first-hand you are witness to the talent, ability, work ethic, and start-versus-win ratio of Dario Franchitti,” said Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing. “The enrichment of his past and present peer lineage fortified by a true understanding of being an unselfish teammate is the standard. My expectation was that his commitment to return and win a fourth Indy 500 with Target would become a reality. Having Dario represent all of us is what's right about Motorsports. His representation of the integrity of a true Champion is what sets him apart.”
Franchitti was well liked by his competitors and was a natural for his sponsors.
“We have been proud to watch Dario emerge as one of the most exciting drivers in IndyCar, winning three series championships and becoming a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner during his time with Target Chip Ganassi Racing,” said Target CEO Greg Steinhafel. “Not only has he had a storied career, but his popularity with Target’s guests, his tremendous contributions to racing and his engagement in our community giving efforts have made him an integral part of Team Target. While we’ll miss seeing him drive behind the Bullseye, Dario will always be a member of the Target racing family, and we look forward to seeing him excel in the next phase of his career.”
Franchitti joined Target Chip Ganassi Racing in 2008, and in just five seasons delivered two Indianapolis 500 wins (2010 and 2012), the first-ever run of three-consecutive IndyCar Series titles by a Target driver (2009-2011), 13 Indy car wins, 16 pole positions and a win in the 2008 Rolex 24 At Daytona. He finished the 2013 IndyCar Series season with four podiums, seven top-five and 11 top-10 finishes, and his four pole positions were more than any other driver this season.
Overall, Franchitti made 265 career Indy car starts. His four championships are second only to AJ Foyt on the all-time list, and he is only the third driver in Indy car history to win at least three consecutive titles.
Franchitti became one of only five drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and the series title in the same season more than once. His 92 podiums place him fifth, his 119 top-five finishes place him tied for sixth and his 29 second-place finishes rank him 10th on the all-time lists.
In 2007, Franchitti became the first professional race car driver to ever capture the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Indianapolis 500, an open wheel title and the Rolex 24 At Daytona consecutively, accomplishing the feat in less than one year. Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt are the only others to win the four titles, but neither did so in succession.
By winning the 2012 Indianapolis 500, Franchitti became just the 10th driver in history to win the race three times, and ends his driving career as the winningest driver in U.S. open-wheel history from Great Britain.
Franchitti was a thrilling driver to watch and had the daring that made him a star. But he also endured the loss of two of his closest friends in racing – Greg Moore, who was killed in a crash in a race at Fontana, California on October 31, 1999; and Dan Wheldon, who was killed in a crash in a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on October 16, 2011.
Franchitti realizes he has been fortunate to achieve tremendous success and has a chance to overcome the injuries that have brought an abrupt end to his racing career.
“'I'll forever look back on my time racing in CART and the IndyCar Series with fond memories and the relationships I've forged in the sport will last a lifetime,” Franchitti said. “Hopefully in time, I'll be able to continue in some off-track capacity with the IndyCar Series. I love open-wheel racing and I want to see it succeed. I'll be working with Chip to see how I can stay involved with the team, and with all the amazing friends I've made over the years at Target.
“As my buddy Greg Moore would say, ‘See you up front’”