INDIANAPOLIS — Dario Franchitti and team owner Chip Ganassi finally got the opportunity to discuss the IZOD IndyCar Series championship the Chip Ganassi Racing team secured in tragic circumstances at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in mid-October.
It was the fourth straight IndyCar Series title for Chip Ganassi Racing and the third in a row for Franchitti, who has won the championship four times in five seasons.
Franchitti claimed the crown when the season finale at Las Vegas was cancelled after Dan Wheldon lost his life in an early race accident.
Franchitti won four races en route to the championship.
“All titles are a year-long fought battle. I mean, they all have their ups and downs,” explained Ganassi. “Each one of the them, you feel like there’s some point in the year when you’ve just blown it all. I mean, we come into each year wanting to win the championship. We talk about that often. But there always comes a point in the year where you say, Gee, it looks like it’s out of our grasp, we’re not going to do it. Each year, through a variety of circumstances, the grueling season, the ups and downs, the glories and the disasters, they all play a part of it.
“But you have so many people that work so, so hard putting this thing together. I can look back and remember times when I thought, ‘Oh, we’re not going to win it in 2011, seems like it’s over.’ But somewhere, somebody in the team picks you up and says, ‘Hey, we can still do this.’
“That’s what’s great about having a great team of people, whether it’s having a great driver, having a great team manager, having a great engineer, having a great crew chief. It takes a whole team these days to win these things.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our people. But there are times when you feel like you’re out of it.”
Franchitti believes every season is different from the previous one.
“If you just take the last four, each one is a little bit different,” Franchitti said. “The ups and downs, like Chip said, the way the season ebbs and flows, I think one thing I’ve learned is to keep a very open mind.
“There’s not been a point in any of these championships where I thought, ‘Yeah, we’ve got this,’ or on the other side where, ‘We’re out of this thing.’ I’ve just kept an open mind and tried to each week, each moment in the car, just get the most you can, make that next pass, make that next move. That’s kind of the way I’ve dealt with things, trying to keep it balanced, not to get too crazy excited when we had a big points lead or get too desperate and upset when that lead eroded or we were behind. That seems to have worked very well.
“One of the reasons I can do that, I have so much faith in every single person that works for Team Target. They do their job; I don’t have to worry about it. They’re the best in the business. They give me such confidence, whether it’s Barry and Chip and Chris calling the strategy, Chris with the engineer and the boys on the car, Kevin O’Donnell, all the guys. I don’t worry about it.”
Ganassi believes Franchitti has the rare ability to get the most out of a situation.
“Dario said, ‘Get the most you can,’” Ganassi said. “I think the best thing about having Dario as the driver ‘get the most you can’ doesn’t mean on the first lap or at half the distance. That’s the thing about a championship driver: He understands when to get the most you can. Getting the most you can in the first 10 laps doesn’t mean much toward the championship. That’s what some of these young drivers have to learn. Last time I checked, they give away all the points at the end.
“That’s what I like about having a veteran driver that has a nose for the finish, knows every day you’re not going to have a perfect car. We’ve had times we haven’t had a winning car but we got the most out of it, though. That’s what it takes. It’s getting the most out of your car on days when it’s maybe not the best car out there.
“Nobody’s going to have the best car every single race. But getting the most out of it when you don’t have the best car, not be scraping it off the fence, is the true mark of a champion in my eyes.”
Franchitti says one of the ways he gets a competitive edge is to walk the race track before the weekend begins.
“I think winning these championships for me is all about the details,” Franchitti explained. “That’s how we as a team can differentiate ourselves from other teams. One of those things I tend to do is I spend a lot of time, especially on the street courses, walking the track. Some of the tracks are easier to get around than others.
Some of the ovals, they won’t even let you out there, so that stops that. The street courses, I tend to spend a lot of time out there looking at the variations. I’ve done that at most places. It’s something I’ve always done and it seems to help me.”