Franchitti hopes lightning strikes twice

Two years after he clinched the IndyCar Championship in a nailbiting finish to the last race of the season at Kansas, Scot Dario Franchitti enters the 2009 finale hoping history repeats itself.
The 36-year-old from Bathgate will start today’s 200-lap race on the tricky high-speed 1.5-mile oval at Homestead in Florida knowing victory would be enough to seal his second IndyCar title.
But in what promises to be a gripping conclusion to the season, the Scot is only one of three drivers who can lift America’s premier open-wheel racing championship. Aussie Ryan Briscoe’s Penske starts three points behind Franchitti who, in turn, is five points behind his own Ganassi team-mate Dixon.
“It’s going to be a tough, tough weekend for everyone involved, but especially for the three of us,” Franchitti explained. “It’s definitely a case of winner takes all, and I’m determined I’m going to win. I just hope it’s not as close as it was two years ago.”
Twenty-four months ago Dixon was cruising to the title as he entered the penultimate corner of the 1.5-mile superspeedway at Kansas. Franchitti, in his final race for Andretti Green, was tucked under his rear wing but with no hope of overtaking. Suddenly Dixon’s Ganassi slowed as it ran out of fuel; the Scot ducked past his stricken rival and sealed an emotional win.
“That was special, very special, especially coming just a few months after I’d won the Indianapolis 500,” Franchitti continued. “It was a fantastic way to win the title, but very cruel on Scott.”
Ironically —after a miserable experience in Nascar in 2008 when technical problems and cash shortages at the height of the credit crunch in the States forced his team to disband — Franchitti not only finds himself pitched against the Kiwi again, but the pair are team-mates and best buddies.
“We’d always been mates in the paddock and when I got the chance to join the Ganassi Indy team I had no hesitation in saying yes. Sure Scott and I are mates off the track, but when we’re racing we each race to win. We’re individuals who each want to win races and championships and it will be no different on Saturday at Homestead.”
Franchitti enters the weekend confident, but Homestead history points to Dixon being favourite. While the Scot’s best IndyCar finish at the track is fourth in 2006, Dixon won in 2003 and ’08, each time going on to win the title. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, he also holds the four-lap qualifying record at the racetrack of 213.341 mph (1min 40.2341secs) and last year set the record for fastest race at the track with an average speed of 171.248 mph over the 200 laps.
With a 10-point difference between first and second in Saturday’s race, Franchitti knows he must overcome not only Dixon and Briscoe but also memories and past demons.
In the traditional pre-season testing at Homestead in 2000, just weeks after he’d been denied the Champ Car title in another end-of-season shoot-out with Juan Pablo Montoya, Franchitti suffered a brutal high-speed crash which left him with a broken pelvis and brain contusions. Amazingly, the Scot recovered in time for the season opener at the same track five weeks later.
But the track hit back again at the end of 2007. In one of his first outings in a Nascar at the Ford 300, broken suspension sent him spearing into the concrete wall. This time though the Scot was uninjured.
“That’s all in the past and it’s just part of racing,” Franchitti stated. “I’m focused on what’s going to happen this weekend and I think the three-way battle at one of the toughest race circuits on the calendar is a perfect scenario. Hey, it’s Florida, it’s Miami in October and it’s hot. What more do you want?”
To add further drama to the event, the race is held under lights at twilight which — as in Formula One’s Singapore race a fortnight ago — gives the race an extra dimension. But while the lights shine down on the track, Franchitti knows it’s his opportunity to sparkle and round-off perfectly his first season back in IndyCar.
“Yeah, it’s great to have won it once in 2007,” he admitted, ”but I want it again. Whatever has happened before is in the past. Today my focus is on what’s going to happen on Saturday and what I have to do to make sure I lift the trophy again. But God, it’s going to be tough.”

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