Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dario's Defense: Franchitti Celebrates 2010 IZOD IndyCar Championship

Photo Credit: Ron McQueeney

As Scott Dixon, the victor of the Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300, makes a path to the winner's circle of Homestead-Miami Speedway, Target-Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti was smoking his tires doing donuts on the 1.5 mile oval frontstretch. Only in a title chase could a 8th place finisher of an event find so much reason for happiness. In the series finale round for the 2010 IZOD IndyCar series overall points title, Dario Franchitti slowly turned a 12-point deficit into a 5-point championship win.

Into this final round of 2010, the fight for the newly-designed IZOD IndyCar trophy saw the reigning 2009 champ Franchitti chasing down the Will "The Road Warrior" Power driving for Penske Racing. Taking points lead after the Iowa Speedway round in mid-June, Power retained the points advantage through the summer happening to add handsomely up to his win at Infineon Raceway. Taking the Road Racing championship for the IZOD IndyCar Series in commanding fashion, Will Power's point lead was foreseen to be under serious attack with the final four race of the championship on ovals (a configuration of track the Penske Racing #12 driver had yet to win). Losing 36 points in the first race on the Chicagoland Speedway oval, Will Power's lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series points continued to dwindle as Homestead-Miami Speedway neared. Overall losing 47 points in three races to a charging Dario Franchitti, only a 12-point separated the Target-Chip Ganassi Racing athlete and the Penske Racing ace.

Taking the pole on Friday for the Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300, Franchitti scored the first point needed to close in on point leader Power. Being only 11 points away from Power as the green flag dropped Saturday night, the Target-Chip Ganassi Racing #10 of Dario Franchitti stayed pinned at front for a total of 128 laps (enough to clinch an additional 2 points for leading the most race laps). Through the early-going, Will Power's #12 machine had troubles keeping pace dropping from 3rd starting spot to as far as out of the top-10. Finding his car difficult in the race, Power sought the high-lane around the Homestead-Miami Speedway. As the race progressed, Will Power broke back into the top-4 thanks to a better handling car and the higher racing groove. Improving in position, a fight against Dario Franchitti for the lead coming from Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport's Tony Kanaan gave Will Power the opportunity to hold on for a tight points victory.

Unfortunately for Power, the high-line would be the undoing of the #12 driver's championship hopes. Running through turn 3 on lap 134, Power's car slid in marble debris into the outer retaining wall brushing the concrete contacting his sensitive right side wheels and suspension system. While Will Power's #12 car appeared alright initially as the open-wheel race machine continued to circulate the Florida oval, closer examination revealed dire problems. A right-rear suspension mount was snapped and later more terminal damage was found to the #12 Penske Racing car ending it with retirement. Understandably, Will Power left the car somberly without an ability to add more points than that of 25th place.

Photo Credit: Dana Garrett

When Will Power's car could not be mended by the best efforts of the #12 Penske Racing team, the #10 Target-Chip Ganassi team remained on track with the champion in his hand. However, possessing a top-3 car through the first half of the event, Franchitti's Target-Chip Ganassi Racing machine is positioned in a very compromising spot on track buried in the lower top-10 of the Cafes Do Brasil Indy 300 running order. Franchitti shed some light on the racing mentality running into the late stage of Cafe do Brasil Indy 300. In post-race, the newly-minted three time IZOD IndyCar said "You could see we were racing very, very hard tonight. And I didn't want to kind of win it doing what we did there, which was actually at the points race after Will had his problem but the guys were just extra cautious, didn't want me running out of fuel. Took an extra pit stop. Put me back in the pack and amongst all the madness". The madness Franchitti talked about was a two-aborted restarts and a near miss of a spinning #18 car of Milka Duno through the turn 3-4 complex. By a split-second, Franchitti's #10 car avoided being collected in the very same area of the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval that eventually claimed Will Power.

Averting disaster, Dario Franchitti needed only a top-10 finish to claim enough points to sweep by Will Power for the points win. With only 9 cars left on the lead lap including Franchitti, the Scot sailed on to the finish gaining one more position for good measure at the finish line. With 8th place, Dario Franchitti earns the 2010 IZOD IndyCar championship.

Photo Credit: Ron McQueeney

Three-time champion after 4 seasons of IZOD IndyCar competition, Dario Franchitti had asserted prior to the 2010 season start that defending his crown would be very difficult. "I do believe the competition level in the series is going up. For whatever reason, we at Team Target both Scott and myself maybe didn't have the speed advantage we had last year." Franchitti said finding victory lane only twice during the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series tour. "But nobody on the Target team gave up. We did our best every single week. We find ourselves here again tonight."

Missing out on the 2010 IZOD IndyCar crown by 5 points, Will Power first full season with Penske Racing was still an absolute success. In fact, the #10 car driver could possibly sympathize with losing on such a close championship battle. Dario Franchitti's career consisted of losing a championship earlier in his career as a driver for CART Champ Car tour. In 1999, the championship battle was between Juan Montoya and Franchitti heading into the final round at California (now Auto Club) Speedway. At the end of the event, both drivers actually tied in their accumulative points. Dario Franchitti lost to Montoya through a tie-breaking decision considering most wins in the season.  

As Dario Franchitti succeeded in a 2010 title defense, his mind is not yet on whether or not he will three-peat starting in March of 2011, the Scottish driver will for sure celebrate with team members, family and other friends into the Florida night. "I'm just going to enjoy it. I think I'm just going to let it sink in, enjoy it. And if you ask me that question maybe starting next year I'll give you a better answer. But I'm very proud of the achievement. And it's an absolute honor to get to drive for the Target team."

Photo Credit: Chris Jones

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