THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's IZOD IndyCar conference call. Our guest today is the driver of the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Dario Franchitti.
Thanks for taking the time to join us today.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No worries.
THE MODERATOR: Dario is currently 8th in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings heading into this weekend's Honda Indy Toronto on the streets of Toronto's Exhibition Place. Dario has won two of the last three races at Toronto and won a Champ Car race in 1999.
Q. What is it about that street circuit in Toronto that suits your style so well?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, I've always loved racing in Toronto. I think it started off in 1997 when I was driving for Carl Hogan and had a pretty good start there, getting my first pole position. I've always enjoyed the track and the challenge of the bumpy surface and the multiple surface changes there. So that's part of it.
Again, I definitely love the fans out there. I think it's something to do with the fact that it's quite a big Scottish and Italian expat community there. It's always been fun to race there and definitely proud of the wins I've managed to have there.
Q. This weekend at Toronto marks the return of pushâ€'toâ€'pass to the IZOD IndyCar Series. What are your thoughts of adding another wrinkle into the strategy you guys have in the car?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's going to be very interesting, you know, with that pushâ€'toâ€'pass, how much power are we actually going to get. I know the numbers of boost, but how much will it actually translate on track, I think there's going to be quite a big difference. That, combined with the fact that you are now allowed to defend again this year is going to make for some pretty interesting racing, and I think it will definitely liven things up a little bit.
Q. Obviously you can still have a chance to make history by winning your fourth consecutive championship but earlier this year you became the 10th driver to win the Indianapolis 500 three times, and with your next win in the series you'll become the active win leader, provided Mr. Tracy and Mr. Bourdais don't win before you do that. I know in the past you've mentioned it's awkward for your name to be mentioned with the legends of the sport, but as time has gone by, has it become more normal to see your name mentioned the elites of our sport?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's very humbling when it happens. You know, I'm definitely proud of the four championships and the three 500 wins. You know, I know that the guys on the Target team and the guys at Andretti Autosport, what we did together, it's something that we â€'â€' it's something we very proud of, because it's a hard thing to do.
As far as, you know, what's next, you never know if you're going to win another race, but you've just got to try â€'â€' you go out every weekend and try to win that race. It's tough in the championship right now, we are lying 8th, and we are still definitely mathematically in it, which is somewhat surprising with some of the mechanical failures we've had.
Some of the issues we've had this year, but we are still definitely in the fight and we'll be fighting all the way to the finish.
Q. Two questions. The first one is turn three, obviously that's the place where there's a lot of action. How is that going to be different now with the pushâ€'toâ€'pass, there's no pavement, and you can defend. Is that going to change the way drivers approach that corner and how they fend off somebody who is trying to get by?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, I think you're going to â€'â€' turn one is pretty actionâ€'packed, too, certainly on the start and the restarts, or the sideâ€'byâ€'side restarts, turn one is going to be very actionâ€'packed.
Yeah, with the big, long straight into turn three, I think you're going to see more guys trying outside passes, because when the car in front goes to defend, that's only one way to go and that's to the outside.
With the pushâ€'toâ€'pass and the momentum that will give the trailing car, providing, though, the car in front doesn't use it, too, but that's going to give some serious momentum, that; plus the draft, you're going to see more outside attempts at passes there. That's when kind of a gray area forms, because it's one thing defending to the inside but the one thing we don't need is the cars who are defending coming back across into the path of the car who is trying to make an outside pass.
I think it's going to be the usual crazy, physical actionâ€'packed race in Toronto this weekend.
Q. The past few years with the Honda engines, we've had no problems with reliability. This year, with competition, are engines going to be a factor and is reliability going to be a huge factor in the race and in Toronto with the way the track is set up?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think as all manufacturers come to terms with trying to get as much power out of these motors as possible, I think all three manufacturers have had failures. So it's definitely something you can see happening this weekend, there's no doubt.
We've had some engine issues. We've also had a suspension breakage in one race, too. So we are still â€'â€' all teams are coming to terms with the new cars and the engine manufacturers are coming to terms with the new specs, too, and I think that adds to the excitement of it.
I think Honda does a terrific job providing a very level platform, when it was one manufacturer, the engines didn't have mechanical problems. You didn't need to think about it. Now that the manufacturer competition is back in, as people push, one of the byproducts of that is sometimes things fail, and that's something we definitely had before with manufacturer competition. It's something that I think you're going to continue to see, and it's just a byâ€'product of everybody trying to just get the upper hand I think.
Q. Looking back to last year, can you recall, or does it come to mind, maybe some of the bad blood, you talk about the potential for an actionâ€'packed race this year; do you recall some of the bad blood from last year, and does that enter your mind?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There was definitely some discussions after the race last year, after several races last year; and I think in a lot of ways, that was good. I think it showed the fans the passion that the teams and the drivers have for what we do.
I think sometimes we have kind of almost kept that passion too hidden maybe, and it was definitely out in the open. That was good. That is definitely a part of it, when you've got people in such a competitive environment, that's going to happen sometimes.
Q. Some of the stuff was directed at you for perhaps a tap; did you take offense, or does that enter your mind going into this year's race?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I think that's all in the past. Will and I had a disagreement about that. I think we have now â€'â€' I don't want to put words in his mouth, but I think we have now kind of realized we both had our part in that accident, and we've definitely moved on.
Q. This far into the season, can you evaluate the DW12 as a street race car, a road and street race car; and also, some drivers have said it's a little short on relative power. Can you comment on that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the car has actually exceeded my expectations. I think it's raced quite well.
As far as the â€'â€' you know, I think all drivers would love to see more power. I think the only way you're going to find that, though; either allowing more turbo boost or a bigger displacement bow turn.
So I think it's definitely done a better job than I thought it would. It's definitely a different animal to drive, and it's something that we are all still trying to figure out. Some people have figured it out quicker than others. But, yeah, it's not bad.
Q. Following up on earlier questions about reliability, does that figure into a driver's mentality? I know you've had years where you've talked about it was rock solid and mechanical failures were very rare, and now you have engines blowing and failures; you probably expected it with the engine competition, but does that affect your mentality or approach as a driver at all?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, it doesn't really affect it. It's not a case of if you drive it 95 percent, you're not going to have these failures. So I think judging, certainly the way I've driven, and from what I've seen, everyone is driving in the same old 100 percent way, and I don't see that changing.
Q. Are these glory days again for Ganassi?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: How do you mean?
Q. Well, I'm thinking back to the stretch they had back from Vasser, Montoya, Zanardi, and now you guys seem to be a pretty solid team again.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the Target team has been very solid. There was maybe a couple of years, I think in 2004, 2005 they struggled. Apart from that, I don't recall a period where they struggled and I say that both as driving for the team and driving against the team for a lot of years.
I know that everybody on the Target team is really proud of the four championships in a row that we have won, and in 2008, the three 500s, between Scott and myself. I think as a team, we have done a pretty good job. We have got to continue doing that. We can't rest on our laurels. We have to keep pushing.
Q. And is that part of it, holding up that tradition?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think you have to keep looking forward. I don't think you can look back too far and get too complacent or celebrate too much what's happened in the past. I think you have to keep looking at next race.
Q. You were talking earlier about the championship, I'm wondering, talking to Carl Edwards today, why is it do you think that some years things go really, really right for guys, and it seems like you're one of these examples where the next year, apart from the Indianapolis 500, you're not getting the same breaks you used to, not the same luck or anything like that, but things just don't seem to flip your way and things are much harder than you're accustomed to.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think that's part of racing, and I think it evens out. You know, I think I've had some â€'â€' there's been some periods when just nothing would go right, and then certainly last three years, things would â€'â€' if there was kind of a â€'â€' if there was a 50/50 situation, it would tend to go my way. And this year and the years previous, if it was a 50/50, maybe it doesn't work out, and that's just part of life. You've just got to keep pushing and just keep fighting in there.
I think myself and every other drivers goes through exactly the same thing; whether it's onâ€'track incidents or whether it's the first race of the year, running out of fuel in the last corner. There's times before where we would have run out of fuel crossing the finish line or some of those mechanical failures, whether it's the engine or suspension, braking; I think we have had four races out of, what, nine where we have had either issues with either mechanically or running out of fuel.
So it's just part of it, and you've just got to deal with it and brush yourself off when it happens and move on.
Q. Do you get in a cycle where you think, this is it, or do you think that there's light at the end of the tunnel, you can shake this and you can still be a championship contender?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I just keep fighting, there's no â€'â€' I think if you're going to quit, you're in the wrong job. And I went through â€'â€' trust me, I went through years of this kind of stuff happening, and so for it to happen for a couple of races, you just shrug it off. I think I can see it on the team, as well, they can shrug it off, and you get back up and you keep fighting. That's what we are trying to do.
Q. INDYCAR yesterday released a fresh engine update, and Dixon is on his sixth and I think you're on you're fourth, and then you have the three Andretti guys who are sitting there with two engines. Do you think this is going to play into the championship race down the stretch?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You know, it very well could. I think certainly Scott, being on his fifth, it's a worry for him. We have obviously got two full engines to run, what, six races on.
But, as we continue to push the envelope and Honda continuing trying to get more power and better fuel economy and those type of things, and Chevy do it and Lotus, you just never know sometimes when you push a little too far. So yeah, it definitely could play into the championship.
Q. Last year's race, it seemed to be a little bit of a turning point for IndyCar. You talked about it earlier, and the words exchanged after the race. The series seemed to pick up some momentum. Do you guys need another event like that, or maybe was Iowa that event for you guys?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Iowa, I was unlucky enough to watch the whole race, and I watched a good bit of it from the booth. But I got to see a lot of what was going on, and there was plenty of action. I think all of the races this year have been actionâ€'packed. So we are certainly not lacking in that area, at all.
You know, I will say that I think when there's controversy and that kind of thing, people definitely love it, and it generates headlines. But I think there's been a fair bit of that this year, and there was definitely some people pissed off at each other after Iowa. In fact, after most races, just thinking back.
Q. And James Hinchcliffe, he's going to go to Toronto in the most prolific ride of his career and sort of in the championship hunt. He was talking a little bit about Greg Moore and how he was a little boy and he met Greg Moore at the Toronto race and you were very good friends with Greg. He said that he does a lot to model himself after Greg and Greg was his hero. I wonder if you see any similarities between the two of them, and what kind of pressure there might be on James to be going home this weekend in the role he's currently in?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think James could be under a lot of pressure this weekend but I think it's up to him to manage that pressure but not let it kind of interfere, not let it into that bubble, I guess, that we sort of live in on race weekend. I think just don't let that in and he'll do fine. He's done an outstanding job in my opinion. He makes very, very few mistakes on the track, and I'm very, very impressed with him.
As far as Greg, out of the car, I see Greg has that â€'â€' just that kind of crazy sense of humor and a really good person; and I see that from James, that connection with the fans. They definitely have that in common. I think a lot of that is the Canadian personality, as well. He's a good guy and very, very impressive.
Q. This is the first break that you and the drivers have had in a while; is that break welcome mentally and physically or do you get antsy waiting for the next race?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I was definitely ready for a break. It's been I guess since the end of April I've been flat out on it; as most of the drives and teams have. But it's been a busy time with Indianapolis, and then obviously with winning Indy, that's been extra, an extra strain on my time. It's been crazy.
So I was ready for it; and then a couple of days at home, I was getting a little antsy, but I managed to relax a bit and just chill out for a while and that seemed quite nice.
Q. Also recently you were nominated for an ESPY Award. How big of an honor is that for you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, it's fun. It's a nice thing to happen. It's happened a couple of times before. It's nice to be recognized for some of the stuff that's happened.
Q. Last year James came into the race as a rookie and there was just expectations of finishing and performing well. This year, it's a completely different ballgame for him and he's a championship contender, and I don't think anybody expected that. Just wondering what kind of different weekend do you think he would have because of that? It's sort of coming in with no expectations and then coming in with a lot of expectations.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, I think you've got to manage your expectations, too. I think if you get carried away with them, that can be a negative, and I think James is smart enough.
And one thing I've learned about James I think is he's very smart and he'll treat it like any other race. Obviously the next big break for James is winning an IndyCar race. He's been very consistent and done a hell of a job, and I think as I say as long as he treats this race like any other week, he'll be just fine.
Q. How tough is that mentally to do that, knowing everything that sort of is in the background?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's part of our job. Jackie Stewart calls it mind management, and that's part of our job to do that. I think the guys in the Canadian press and the Canadian fans, they want a home win and they are going to put a lot of pressure on James to deliver that.
But I used to see that with Greg, too, the pressure on Greg in Toronto and Vancouver, especially Vancouver, was just obscene, and to have to deal with that was very tough. I think if James can put that out of his head and get on with it, he'll be just fine.
But my job is to try and close that gap a little bit to him and Will and those guys, and you know, get my job done.
Q. With this being the first Toronto that now Beaux is officiating instead of Brian, how do you expect that rulings will happen in turn three? And you've been very transparent and open thus far, particularly with your team after Milwaukee, how would you rate him to this point in the season thus far?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Funny, when he took the job, we had a discussion about the Toronto race last year, and obviously specifically the incident with Will and I and how he saw that. I think Will was a little grumpy with the take on the whole thing.
I don't expect â€'â€' I don't think much difference â€'â€' in any race so far. I think compared to Torontos in the past, obviously we talked about the defending rule. It's going to be interesting to see how that is interpreted. I think that's going to be one of the key things of the weekend.
You know, I think he's done a good job. Obviously nobody's perfect and there's some moments, obviously he and his team made a big mistake in Milwaukee with the penalty on Scott, and that was very unfortunate. There was a couple of things he's missed, but nobody's perfect, and I've certainly made mistakes this year. It's been pretty good, though.
THE MODERATOR: We'll thank Dario for his time and wish him and Target Chip Ganassi Racing the best of luck in Toronto.