Q&A with Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi
Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car, won his third IZOD IndyCar Series Championship this year last weekend at Homestead. And he won by 5 points over Will Power in the season ending Cafes do Brasil 300. It was the second closest margin in IZOD IndyCar Series history.
Dario's only the second driver to win three IZOD IndyCar Series titles. Also, Dario's one of only five drivers to win the Indianapolis 500, and the National Championship season in the same season at least twice during their careers. Joining some pretty illustrious company, A.J. Foyt, Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw, and Roger Ward.
Chip Ganassi has had one of the greatest seasons of any team owner in Motorsports history this year. His teams have won the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, the Brickyard 400, that is the first triple crown of American racing. First time any owner has won all three of those crown jewel races in one season, and his teams also have won the IZOD IndyCar Series Championship, and the Grand Am Rolex Series Championship. So it's been one heck of a year for the entire Ganassi organization.
Dario and Chip, thank you for joining us today.
CHIP GANASSI: Thanks, guys
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I hear that are kind of list and I hear these legends of the sport, and I don't kind of ‑‑ I don't feel part of that group, you know what I mean? I'm very proud of my achievements winning the three championships and the two Indianapolis 500's. But I kind of look on those guys as, I don't feel part of that. You know what I mean?
I just feel I'm a driver who has been lucky enough to drive some great equipment and gotten the job done. But it's a privilege to be mentioned in the same kind of sentences as those guys
Q. Chip, you've had many great drivers through the years with all of your teams, IndyCar, Stock Car and sports car teams. What similarities does Dario have to the other great drivers throughout the years and Ganassi Teams, and where is he different? Possibly a cut above?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, that's a good question. I think Dario isn't the - - he's not the empresario that (Alex) Zanardi was, or he's not somebody that is referred to as blindingly fast like (Juan Pablo) Montoya was when he was in IndyCar. But he's always one of these guys that he's always there when it counts.
He's always ‑‑ you win championships and you win races by first finishing and then finishing first. There is a lot that goes into all of that. Dario just has a way of, I think, looking at ‑‑ he has a keen eye on the race at hand any particular weekend. But he also has his left eye on this weekend. He's got his right eye on the goal post at the end of the year.
I think that's a special kind of thing that I didn't really see in any of our other drivers. Not to mention his teammate, obviously, Scott Dixon didn't have the kind of year that he would have liked to have. But there can only be one winner, and it's good to have Dario as a bullet in your gun, as a big bullet, yeah.
Q. As a team owner, you've been involved with PPG as the series sponsor and then later with FedEx. This year IZOD was the series sponsor for the IndyCar Series for the first time. If you could talk a little bit about how they elevated the promotion and the awareness of the sport this season in their first year as a series sponsor?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, I tell you, that is a good question. It started off with seeing ads for the IndyCar Series during the NFL playoff season last year. I remember watching ads on some pretty big networks that had some pretty big events on them. There was IZOD in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
I thought it was pretty interesting that they came out of the blocks really hard and kept it going throughout the year, exposing IndyCar racing to a different crowd.
Let's face it, everybody that picks up an issue of Auto Week or IndyCar magazine, we have some core fans that will be core fans for a long time. But I think we all agree that IndyCar racing needs to be taken to some new fans and just exposed to people.
I think that's what IZOD's done a great job of. Whether it was these events in New York and Boston and L.A., Indianapolis, they're bringing in people that expose to different types of media, different types of people.
There are a lot of people that, when exposed to motorsport and particularly IndyCar racing, when they're exposed to it, you find out a lot more about them. They have a keen interest in it, they have a little bit, they have a story to tell about the Indy 500 or something to tell them and they're a fan of it.
I think we're very lucky to have IZOD. I think they did a great job for their first year and certainly exposing us to some new type of people.
Q. I know that from a driver's point of view, they had you guys involved in quite a bit of promotions, a lot of autograph sessions. Sometimes some long bus rides to these sessions. But as a driver though, how worthwhile is it to kind of see some of those efforts pay off?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, the autograph sessions, yeah, there were some of them that were quite a distance from the track, but it was always worthwhile going. We were well‑promoted. It was a huge fan turnout every one we did, whether it was inside some of the stores or outside. Wherever we did them, they were very well attended.
So that was, I think, the guys in the IndyCar Series, IZOD did a good job. And all the drivers showed up and did a good job interacting with the fans, too I think we're all on the same page and realize we have to work hard to get IndyCar back to where it wants to be. I think we have a good partner in IZOD for that very thing.
Q. Dario, you're headed on a long flight very shortly down to Australia. Wanted to ask, of the V8 Super Car drivers that you know or you follow, who are some that you think might not be household names or names at all here in the states, but are highly rated as some of the best in the business? And second, of all the international drivers invited down to the event, are there any that you think are missing or you'd love to see in the game next year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The guy's I really follow are obviously James Courtney. I think James is a terrific talent. He went to Europe and raced carts and then from the Formula Ford and all that kind of stuff over there. That's when I got to know him.
Him and my little brother, Marino, are best buddies. I follow him. He's leading the championship right now, so I think for me he's the man down there. I think the new generation.
Craig Lowndes is always a guy that's impressed me, too, absolutely. So those are probably the two that I would put above everybody else.
CHIP GANASSI: I'm sure glad you didn't ask me that question.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: As far as the list of guys missing, it's pretty long. You've got Tony Kanaan, Paul Tracy, Justin Wilson, just off the cuff, and I probably missed out because there are a lot of people that I think should be down there. But there are only so many cars.
I definitely give "Crusher" (Armor All 600 PR representative Brett Murray) a hard time about some of the guys that he missed. He kind of put his hands up and said 'I've only got so many cars and that's all I can do.'
Q. Chip, when you look back on this year whatever, down the road when you reminisce about things, across all the series that you've been involved in, what will be two or three things that will stick out in your mind, do you think?
CHIP GANASSI: Thanks, I'm certainly proud of what we were able to do this year as a team across all our series. You hear everybody say it's always a complete team effort, and we want to thank the guys.
But the fact of the matter is I think the thing that I'm most proud of is, obviously, winning big races is a lot of fun. Really, that's what always gets your guys' attention or the fans' attention, and that's what everyone wants to talk about.
I can tell you from a car ownership point of view, it's probably just as rewarding internally. Externally, you love to do things that no other teams have ever done externally. Internally, you're probably just as proud of the fact that every driver in our stable this year won races.
That's a really nice thing, believe me, because it shows a particular balance, maybe, that teams often search for. It just shows a balance that you're always looking for.
Q. As a car owner, I know it wasn't a perfect year, but in your mind could it have gotten any better?
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I guess. You could sit there and argue that my guys are 14th or 15th in NASCAR points or so, so we didn't make the Chase. I could sit there and nitpick the season.
We had a terrible race this past weekend in Fontana, California, after being so promising in qualifying. I could sit there and nitpick little things and reasons, but the fact of the matter is it's been a great year. It would be very hard to have anything that will turn it into a not so good year. Practically nothing can happen to turn it into a bad year.
I say practically nothing, so, obviously we ‑‑ there are ups and downs in all forms of things you do in life. I'm sitting here right now celebrating a championship with Dario on one hand. On the other hand, I have my team manager in Indianapolis today with his son who is comatose right now from a crash. (Steve Hmiel, whose son Shane was injured in a USAC racing accident)
You know, it's an everyday thing. When you're in this business every day, it's filled with ups and downs.
Q. There are several big named free agents out there in the IndyCar Series, Tony Kanaan and Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter‑Reay among the biggest. Are you interested in expanding your team to a three‑car operation? Do you feel the need to do that, or are you worried about maybe upsetting chemistry?
CHIP GANASSI: First of all, there are some great free agents out there. None, I think, as great as the drivers I have, but nonetheless there are some great free agents out there that are available.
I'm perfectly happy with the two guys I have whether these free agents became available last week, last month or six months ago. I'm perfectly happy with the guys I have. And I doubt very much that I would do anything to dilute our team right now.
Whether that's with a ‑‑ I wouldn't think a third car is in the cards at Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Having said all that, I would be perfectly happy to have a well‑funded development team of some younger guys that are on their way up that have some potential down the road if the proper sponsorship could be found. Not necessarily under the roof of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, but I think in terms of a development team, we could easily compete with a lot of these teams out there now running less than a total budget for a well‑funded front‑running car.
I think if done right, that could add to Target Chip Ganassi Racing down the road three or four years or something. The things you do now could possibly augment your team for the future.
Again, having said that, it's not something ‑‑ it's not something that's going to make or break our organization. If our organization looks exactly the same a year from now as it does today, it won't bother me a bit.
Q. Dario, I'm assuming that you're pretty happy working with Scott. I know you guys had developed a real good chemistry and you've spoken about that several times?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, absolutely. Scott and I work very well together. We push each other very, very hard. I've learned a lot from Scott. As long as I've been doing this, I'm still learning from my teammate. We definitely pass that information back and forward. There are things that Scott does better than me and vice versa.
So it's been really good. I have total confidence Chip would not do anything to upset the Target Chip Ganassi Racing because he's won a lot of championships, and he knows what he's doing. He's very adept to steering the ship.
Q. Dario, you had said when you came into the post race press conference at Homestead Miami on the 2nd, and the media asked you, has it sunk in yet? And you said, no, not yet. It's too soon. I'm sure at some point in the next week or so it will sink in. Well, about a week and a half has passed, and I guess my question is, one, has it sunk in that you've won your third title, and basically your third in as many years, because you were not in the series in 2008. And, two, was there a moment in the last 10 days where it really hit you that you were just at a certain place or certain time or doing a certain activity where it just hit you and you said, wow, I've just won my third?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, Ashley and I went off pretty much as soon as we arrived home, we went right up to the mountains of Tennessee. I haven't even spoken with Chip this week. I got home yesterday and got a message with Chip, so I haven't even called him to catch up and reminisce because we've been up in the mountains of Tennessee with no phone signal.
I was walking up there hiking and it hit me. Wow, we did it. We won that third. It was a great feeling when it finally hit me.
But it's the kind of thing that I think feels even better when you're celebrating it with your team, with Chip, with Chris Simmons, with Barry (Wanser), with all the guys on the team. That's when I think it feels best.
I want to give Chip a bit of a hard time, actually. He was saying at the start there about not known for maybe the speed of Montoya or that kind of stuff. But back in the day when it was Zanardi and Montoya, I was pretty much the guy to keep up with them.
CHIP GANASSI: He was. That's true. I stand corrected, that's true.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I was kind of thinking of that the other day. I think driving styles have a lot to do with it. When you watch Montoya, it's spectacular to watch because he's all arms and elbows and he's hanging on to it. And my style is more sort of fluid and less movement.
And it looks, even when it's quick, it looks kind of slow, and that's maybe I think over the years where we dominated the service. Because even times when you're romping away from the field, it looks like we're on a Sunday drive.
CHIP GANASSI: If he keeps looking as slow as he did this year, he'll be here for a long time.
Q. We've written about and talked about how Target used to be a really popular and constant advertiser of television commercials in IndyCar racing. That hasn't happened for a while. That's not just Target, frankly, that's most IndyCar sponsors. Is that something you see as related to a shift to a cable network station, or is it something that you see as maybe endemic of something else?
CHIP GANASSI: No, I tell you. That's a good question, and I'm glad you asked that question. Because people see that. You can look and say well, Target is not on the broadcast now. You say, hmm, they're not doing any ads. Hmm, that's interesting.
Well, what you need to do is peel the onion back a little more, and you'll find that they've shot commercials every year, okay. And they shot a commercial this year, and it's playing on the Target Television Network inside all their stores, exposing racing.
If you go into their electronics department where they'll have 50 televisions lined up, you'll see the Target Television Network. And among 25 other things is a huge probably five or six‑minute run of IndyCar racing.
They've just been trying other media where they've done more newspaper media. They've done more congratulatory ads, thank you very much. They've done more online advertising.
So I don't think it's a switch away from exposing the sport. It's a switch to expose, again, to expose the sport to different arenas.
Let's face it. The people that are watching the broadcast, they know who Target is. I'm sure they do, and they've certainly seen the Target name and the bull’s-eye.
Then again, I want to be careful not to speak for Target. But their interest in promoting the sport is as vibrant as ever. It's just in different mediums that maybe you're not as common as one who watches television would think.
Q. I still have my Jimmy Vasser flashlight. Are we going to see any Dario dust pans?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, just yesterday I was in a Target in Pittsburgh, and there were shelf talkers there of Energizer Batteries with the 10 car on them, and Dario and Scott's name called out.
I'm perfectly fine with what Target's doing, believe me. Maybe you just need to dig a little deeper and find out what the real story is. That budget's still there; it's just directed in different places than advertising on Versus.
Q. This is the final year or 2011 will be the final year of the current chassis engine combo. Given all the uncertainties heading into 2012, do you see this as a next best chance to win a championship with the proven formula?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Explain the question again? I don't quite understand the question.
Q. The fact that 2011 will be the final year of the current chassis and engine, and you guys had so much knowledge about it. Is there an immediacy to go ahead and try to win another championship with this formula that you know so much about? Will that kind of like pique your want to win other championships, just because you have such a great grasp on what's going on there?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Hopefully we have a great grasp of the new car too, and I can stay with Target Chip Ganassi Racing and we can develop a new car as a championship winner too.
We want to win any championship that we're a part of, whether it's the new car or the last year of the old car. If you remember back to the days of the late '90s, we were swapping cars every single season. In some cases, we swapped in the middle of the season to learn new cars. So it's nothing new.
Like I said, while we're celebrating this championship right now. We're also ‑‑ there's going to become a point here fairly soon, and I'm trying to hold it back, but there's going to come a point where I start thinking about next year's championship. I just want to enjoy this one a little first.
CHIP GANASSI: If I could add to that too, the next best championship to win is 2011 right now. We're not going to bypass 2011 looking forward to 2012.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think in some ways things have clicked. It's like we were talking about earlier. Back in the late '90s when I first showed up, I was fighting with Zanardi, Montoya, Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti, Al (Unser) Jr., all those guys for wins. But we never managed to tie that season together.
There were a couple difficult years, too. But from 2007, it's all just clicked. I think when you figure out how to win one of these things, you've kind of got that knowledge to fall back on. I've been very lucky again to drive great equipment both in 2007, and certainly since I've joined Team Target, and that all helps.
As Chip said before, it's a team sport. You're not going to do it without a great teammate. And the relationship I have with the guys and especially with my engineer Chris Simmons and the engineering staff. That is all critical to getting the most out of essentially everybody running the same equipment. You've got to find an advantage somewhere.
Q. Chip, you've known Dario for a long time. He used to race against your team. Can you add anything to that? Can you see any evolution of Dario as a race driver over the last 12 to 15 years or so that has caused him to really hit this groove, this stride right now?
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I mean, I think it's a combination of a lot of things. First of all, first at the keystone in the whole thing is the fire that burns in his belly. That is the keystone to the whole thing, OK.
Then you start with that, and you start going out in different directions. You might talk about the fact that the level of experience. His level of whether you want to believe it or not, you'd have to say that him going away for a year, maybe, I think, made him faster.
I think he keenly understands in Brazil at the beginning of a year, what it takes to win a championship at the end of the year. So it's sort of a ‑‑ it's not just one thing, but it's a plethora of inputs into a total package.
But it starts right with him though, and right in his ‑‑ you have to have ‑‑ it starts with Dario. You have to want to do it, OK. That's your launch pad, if you will, for the rest of what I was just saying.
You have to want to do it. When you have a driver like him that wants to do it, it's easy to put people around him that have an equal motivation.
Q. Not to press the point. I'm just wondering when do you start thinking about 2011? You said you want to take some time off, and deservedly so, but when will you start getting serious?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Unfortunately, I was thinking about it last night already (laughing). I was like stop already. You just need to give yourself a break for a couple of weeks.
I don't know. It's a blessing because I love what I do so much. I think about it quite a lot. But I would say certainly when I get back from Australia to start in November, I'll be heading up to Indianapolis and sitting with Chris and Barry and Julian (Robertson) and Eric (Bretzman) and the whole technical side of Team Target. And we'll be talking about next year and where to improve.
I'm sure Chip and I will be getting together as well. He'll be putting his side of things in there, too. We'll start working already on it. Testing is going to cull up, and it's going to be here before we know it.
I suppose in some ways the good point is I'm already up for it. But I think I do need a couple of weeks off.
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