Dario Franchitti was buckled into the 2012 IndyCar to commence the second round of manufacturer testing for Honda at Sebring International Raceway, but he was a million miles away.
The reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, physically weary from travel and mentally spent from the emotional upheaval of Dan Wheldon's death, wanted to be anywhere else.
But, like Ryan Hunter-Reay in the Chevrolet car 200 yards down pit lane, the program must push forward. It's what, both acknowledge, Wheldon would have wanted. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and 2005 series champion was the test driver for the seven-week Dallara chassis validation program through late September.
Now the engine manufacturers' program, which began at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in early October, is in full swing with testing almost every week through mid-December.
Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, who drove the Honda car at Mid-Ohio, will do the lion's share of the engine development work for Honda. Series championship runner-up Will Power tested at Mid-Ohio, with the remainder of the program being spread out among other teams. Hunter-Reay drove the two days at Sebring, while Tony Kanaan will be in the car next week.
"Right now, I would rather have another couple of weeks," Franchitti said during the lunch break. "But our job is to do this so here I am. It's tough for everybody on the team; it's tough for everybody in the INDYCAR community right now. The timing is not good right now, but if we want to show up next year in the best position possible we have to be doing it. I definitely want to do my part."
The on-track program, according to INDYCAR director of engine development Trevor Knowles, isn't only about proving out the engine that's "quite a departure" from the one utilized through this season.
"It's gone from 8 cylinders to 6, naturally aspirated to turbocharged, so there are a lot of new things that need to be proven out," Knowles said. "Also, they're learning about the chassis. Does it meet the targets that were set and validate the information they got from Dallara on the chassis in terms of aero and chassis setups. So it's the whole car that is the focus."
Development, as Roger Griffiths of Honda Performance Development and Mark Kent of GM Racing said, will be ongoing.
"Even when the manufacturer testing finishes it won't be the final product," Knowles added. "It will be close to it, but there will be refinements to make and they'll be working with their teams in the early part of next year."
Manufacturers have a homologation date of 30 days before the March 25 opener in St. Petersburg. Teams are scheduled to take delivery of their first chassis in mid-December.
"I'm really appreciative of Dallara naming the car after Dan; he did put a lot of work into it and he did a really good job of not telling us anything," Franchitti said. "He was very secretive about what went on so he didn't give anyone an advantage, and a few of us tried to tap him for information.
"We're at the beginning of a long development process. It will be a busy couple of months."