Familiar starting spot for Franchitti in Indianapolis 500 return
They say familiarity breeds contempt, but don't tell that to Dario Franchitti. The 35-year-old Scotsman is happy to be starting third in the Indianapolis 500, the same position he started in 2007 when he won The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
"It's very satisfying to be on the front row here," said Franchitti, who will start on the outside of Row 1 with Team Penske drivers Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe. "It is a great feeling, especially Race Day to get in the car and have a clear view in front of you.
"This will be the third time I started outside Row 1, and it's worked out pretty well every time."
Franchitti started third two years ago when Castroneves also had the pole. Driving for Andretti Green Racing, Franchitti led 34 laps en route to becoming the first Scot to win the Indianapolis 500 since Jim Clark in 1965.
Franchitti went on to win the IndyCar Series championship. After the season, he decided to pursue a career in NASCAR, foregoing the opportunity to defend his Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series titles.
"I made the decision in August or September of '07 not to come back because of all the reasons I've talked about before about looking for new challenges, so it was my decision not to do that," Franchitti said. "Didn't make it any easier, and I tried to kid myself I wasn't missing it.
"I'm one of those people I close down outside distractions. I was just focused on trying to be successful in NASCAR. Then I broke my ankle and kind of came up for air."
Franchitti followed the Month of May activities closely in 2008, talking often with former teammate and friend Tony Kanaan and watching live streaming feeds of on-track activity on indycar.com.
"It's an emotional thing, probably more an emotional thing than anything as to not being here, especially Race Day was tough," Franchitti said. "That got my thought process started thinking about coming back to the IndyCar Series."
Several months later, sponsorship fell apart on his NASCAR ride, and Target Chip Ganassi Racing team owner Chip Ganassi asked Franchitti to consider a return to the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
"I'd like to have been successful," Franchitti said. "But for all the reasons we know, losing the sponsorship and things, it didn't work out. So I'm pretty lucky that I went to go over there, had the chance to try that as sort of an experiment, and then get to come back here and jump straight into the best seat in the paddock. That wasn't lost on me the fact that I was able to do that. It was, and as I said before, it feels really good to be back driving the Indy car, such a thrill of driving these things. And that was the one thing when I jumped back in the car for the first time, the smile it put on my face, the fun and the thrill I get from driving an Indy car.
"I still want to drive Indy cars, and that year away really made me appreciate how much I enjoyed doing it, how I enjoyed all the disciplines of it, whether street courses, road courses, especially here at Indianapolis."
So far, so good for Franchitti, who has already earned a victory at Long Beach in 2009 and ranks third in points heading into the Indianapolis 500 on May 24.
"It feels good to be back. You've got to prove yourself again. And you have a good month, that's only half the battle of the Indy 500 is showing up on Race Day with a fast car. That puts you in a position to win the race, then you've got to do everything right over that whole day to get it done, and you've got to have some luck, as well."