Bathgate’s Dario Franchitti reaffirmed his position as the most successful Scottish racing driver since triple Formula One world champ Jackie Stewart by lifting his second IndyCar Championship. The 36-year-old Scot clinched the title in dramatic fashion in Florida.
Two years after pipping Scott Dixon for the championship when the Kiwi dramatically ran out of fuel on the penultimate corner of the final race in Kansas, Franchitti again benefited by his light use of his right foot.
While Dixon — this time Franchitti’s team-mate at Team Ganassi and who started the final 200-lap race at Homestead leading the championship by four points from the Scot — battled out front with the Penske of Aussie Ryan Briscoe, Franchitti played a waiting game.
In fact, so fast were the three championship rivals — Briscoe was the only other driver who could lift the title — that they were the only drivers who finished on the lead lap having lapped every other driver in the 23-car field.
“I realised early in the race that our car wasn’t as quick as Scott’s of Ryan’s,” Franchitti, who started the race from pole position but was soon relegated to third as his two title rivals romped ahead, said today, “so my crew switched strategy.
“Rather than battle it out at the front with the other two guys, we decided to take a big gamble and go for a better fuel strategy in the hope we could get through the race with one less pitstop.”
The gamble paid off; and paid off big time. With eight laps of the 1.5-mile high speed oval remaining, Dixon was forced to pit. Two laps later, Briscoe followed. In the blink of an eye, Franchitti saw a 17-second deficit turn into a six-second advantage and he was on his way to his second championship and the one million dollar cheque.
What was crucial to Franchitti’s strategy was that the race should run its course without a yellow caution flag which, quite simply, would instantly have wrecked his plans and thrown any chance he had of winning out the window.
Lady Luck, as in 2007, smile on the Scot. For the first time in 14 years, an IndyCar race ran from flag-to-flag without a caution.
“Yeh, everything worked in our favour today,” Franchitti admitted. “It was tough watching Scott and Ryan disappear way out front, but once we decided on our fuel-saving strategy, I had to be very, very disciplined and make sure I didn’t use too much fuel.
“While the guys in front were running full-rich to ensure they could go as fast as they could, we were running lean and making sure we could go as fast as we could while saving as much fuel as possible.
“I guess it was the fastest fuel economy run ever. It’s spooky; I won my title in 2007 having saved more fuel than Scott, and today we did exactly the same. Must be something to do with me being a tight Scot?”
Franchitti’s achievement this season shouldn’t be underestimated. After winning the IndyCar title in ’07, just months after becoming the first Scot since double F1 champ Jim Clark to win the Indy500, Franchitti pledged his future to Nascar.
But after a crash which broke his ankle, and severe funding problems with his car, the team pulled the plug on their 2008 assault and the Scot opted to return to IndyCars this season. And after narrowly missing out on a podium in the opening race, he won second time out at Long Beach.
Victory at Homestead was his fifth of the year, matching the same total as team-mate Dixon who eventually had to settle for third in the race, 1.2318s behind Briscoe. The Aussie, in turn, was 4.788s behind Franchitti who took the title by 11 points from Dixon.
“This has been a hell of a year,” Franchitti — whose nailbiting victory was watched not only by his dad George, but also his Hollywood actress wife, Ashley Judd — admitted as he struggled to come to terms with what he’d achieved.
“There were a lot of people who questioned my desire when I decided to come back to IndyCars, but I guess today’s result answered their concerns. I know learned a lot when I drove the Nascar, but always knew IndyCars was where I was meant to be.
“Winning at Homestead is the perfect way to finish the season and it’s a dream to be champion again.”