We at PRN IGNITION have been Franchitti fans for as long as we can remember. During the 2012 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, I managed to track down the reigning Indy 500 Champion in his sponsor Borg Warner's booth to ask him a load of questions about his racing career - past, present and future - and more. Well, without any further ado, read on to see what the Flying Scotsman had to say about 2012, Randy Barnard and more.
Photo by Shaun Keenan
Shaun: Hi Dario, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. It’s great timing with Target coming to Canada this year, and I just want to start off with a light question. I saw you touching the trophy for the photo as a reigning Indy 500 champion. Can you tell me what that means in the level of your career? Have your reached the top or are you shooting for more?
Franchitti: Well, if you think you have reached the top, then you tend to stop. In order to be successful, I think you should have goals of trying to do more - and I do. I do so in a way that I race the very next race, probably the Rolex 24, whether it is the first IndyCar race or Indianapolis 500, there was always those goals to try to achieve.
Shaun: Do you have an ultimate goal that you set for yourself long ago, or do you plan week by week?
Franchitti: Yeah, I just make short term goals and I look ahead to the next race. With the new car, me and my engineer, Chris, have struggled taking on a car to highlight its qualities – I drove some corners with the right techniques, but I had to change. That was my goal for in testing. I keep it very short term. I don’t want to examine championships or races or Indy 500s. I never expect any races or any championships or any Indy 500s, so they’re all bonuses.
Shaun: Obviously, it was your first year with the new car. How did you find the turbocharged Honda versus the car you had before? Can you speak towards the differences between the two?
Franchitti: Well, there are a lot of differences. It’s almost a new car – it’s really different! Things like carbon brakes and different [inaudible] that I will mix. It’s all the amateur cases of the sense of what the car likes – how you get handling and the feeling the way you want – and the difference between success and failure is you. We struggled a little bit to start it and then felt handle better as the season went on. Getting used to a turbocharged engine again was an ongoing process – and trying to make it feel like you want it again, working with the guys certainly in the early days – I thought the guys that were on it did a great job. There’s still work to be done though.
Photo by Shaun Keenan
Shaun: Do you have a preference to the older car versus a new car? Do you treat them as different entities all together?
Franchitti: Well, I don’t think you can. There are some of my favorite cars that I have raced.
Shaun: What are some of you favorite cars you have raced?
Franchitti: My favorites are probably the Renault in 1999 – big horsepower, very sticky tires, and lots of downforce. Sometimes, the M2 car was pretty nice, and there was Acura that I raced in 2007. It was a good fun.
Shaun: The ARX?
Franchitti: Yeah. I drove the new restoration of that recently. I have been lucky to have won the championships then – you know, two 500s, to win one 500 with the new car. I can’t think of many cars as I enjoy driving apart with some of the Porsche cars. This new car – it’s something to be learned. It’s an instrument to figure out and to make it as fast as possible and try to win races. I find to love them really comes with a mindset. You don’t really look. You are so focused doing your job, and to be successful and try to make it faster than the other guys. You are kind of like, ‘Oh man, this thing is just the best.’ That could happen subconsciously, but it’s not at the front of your mind because you are so focused to brake and accelerate at the right point, that you don’t go out of your space and just feel the joy of driving.
Shaun: What is the car you enjoy and get the most fun out of? It could be a personal car you drive – what’s your baby?
Franchitti: Most of the cars I own, I get a lot fun out of. That’s why I have kept them. But the Ferrari F40 that I have. When I drive it, it just makes me laugh.
It’s just awesome. It’s just wow! Either that or Carrera GT is always good for a chuckle. I am lucky I am able to indulge with my love for cars, and I have a lot of cars that really do that for me.
Shaun: Obviously, the schedule is changing for 2013. What are your thoughts about having a few doubleheaders in the IndyCar mix next year?
Franchitti: I think it’s physically really very tough for the drivers. It’s hard enough when you do that somewhere, for example, in places like Toronto and Detroit. When you finish the race in Toronto, you are giving your absolute all.
Shaun: Your body is taking the beating, right?
Franchitti: Oh yes, your body is taking the beating, but it’s also in your mind. So it’s going to be a challenge. For some other reasons, I don’t really agree with it, but that is the situation we will face and have to train harder.
Shaun: There were previous rumors of a European date on the calendar this year, with Monza, Imola and Mugello mentioned. Although that hasn’t happened what do you think of future IndyCar races in Europe?
Franchitti: I really don’t know, I will be surprised if we do. I would say Mugello is one of my favorite tracks of all. I won my first DTM race there. Anytime you can race Monza or Imola – especially Monza, would be like a dream come true for me, but I just don’t see that happening.
Shaun: Since you just mentioned DTM, you are aware that a Canadian, Bruno Spengler won it. Can you comment on a Canadian winning a major championship? What kind of accomplishment do you see from an outsiders point of view?
Franchitti: They have terrific drivers. Going back, from my era, obviously Gilles Villeneuve was one guy who I admire so much. He has completely different driving. I am kind of old smooth and he was just balls the wall. What a hero! What an absolute hero! From him it was certainly Jacques who drives terrific. I think terrific talent, great driver.
Then there is Greg Moore, who I thought had talent – and Paul Tracy, obviously one of the Indy champions.
Shaun: Who can be the next Canadian superstar?
Franchitti: Hinchcliffe. I think he has got the talent. He is sort of grey and he certainly got the personality.
Shaun: Any other younger guys than him?
Franchitti: Oh man, there are a lot of other guys coming, but I think Hinch is there already. There are some guys racing over in Europe who are really very strong. There are some guys coming out through the ladder series in America as well. I think Hinch is going to be the first guy there.
Photo by Shaun Keenan
Shaun: You have been competing since 1997 and started to age like everybody. How much longer do you think you will be able to compete in IndyCar?
Franchitti: Well, it’s not the case of how much longer I will be able to compete, but it’s how much longer will I be at this level and that how long I will be able to challenge and win some championships and Indianapolis 500s – how long I will enjoy it. I don’t know how to answer that. I am enjoying it a lot. But a deal for next year? My qualifying performance this year was the best I think in years. The pace is still there and I am happy about that. I love working with my team. I love my job.
Shaun: What do you do to stay in shape in the offseason?
Franchitti: Cycling, running, different strength workouts. I have a trainer based in the UK. He is a Scotsman, Jerry. He sends me torturous workouts every couple of days that I have to follow. It’s probably five days a week, a couple of times a day. It’s something that I have been more focused on in the last three or four years.
You can’t even drive these cars without being in a certain level of physical shape. The faster you want to go, the better shape you have to be in. If you want to run that pace from lap one to lap 19 or in longer races, you have got to be in that shape. It’s a very important part of what we do.
Shaun: When you are ready to leave motorsport, what do you think you would like to do?
Franchitti: There are a couple of things when I eventually stop racing IndyCars. I love to race sports cars. I love to drive 24 hour endurances and would love trying to win that. I have won the Daytona 24. I would love to stay involved in IndyCar series in some way. I don’t know what that will be right now. Time will tell.
Shaun: What are you feeling now that Randy Bernard is no longer at the helm of IndyCar?
Franchitti: You know I could talk for hours on the things Randy did well, and the things that Randy didn’t do so well. We could have a discussion for hours on that. I have some fairly balanced view on Randy. I do believe he has done a lot of good stuff – a couple of missteps along the way definitely, with a lack of racing knowledge – but some of those years, he was good. But we need to look forward because the board made their decision. Where is the plan? Where is the step by step plan of how we are going to put ourselves in the stronger position? If you are getting rid of Randy, and if you are doing that and have taken that big decision to do it, you should be doing that to improve and strengthen your position. So far we haven’t seen anything.
Shaun: Do you think there was anybody that was ready to come in and just tell the…
Franchitti: Knowing that they have made their decision… There hasn’t really been a change. They got rid of Randy and now what? That’s the kind of short term thinking and I think that’s how this thing works. You better come up with a plan quickly. Obviously felt Randy wasn’t achieving that. So, how are they going to achieve them? I think they have made a decision rightly or wrongly. They have made a decision, but what’s the future?
Shaun: That’s still the question mark that you and other drivers…
Franchitti: So, I think that’s the question that needs to be answered. The other thing that is annoying about the whole situation is yet again, the politics of the sport have overshadowed what happened on the track. Ryan Hunter Reay won the championship, did a great job. After the championship, we are talking about politics and the people who run this sport again. That’s really annoying. Tony George is trying to get Randy Bernard fired. He forgets that he had one of the best 500s on track for years. That’s very frustrating. I hope the board and all involved get together and quickly come over the plan that people can look at with some confidence. I’m pretty passionate about that one.
Photo by Gerry Marentette