Welcome to the second part of my interview with Dario Franchitti. Today's topic is IndyCar.
In Part 2 of my discussion with Dario Franchitti, we moved on from Formula E and into something much more familar to the three-time Indy 500 champion ... IndyCar. Despite being out of the car, the Scot is still heavily involved in the sport and with Chip Ganassi's racing operation.
The current state of IndyCar
"I'm still very much involved, just not as a driver, still working with the drivers and the engineers and it's something I've really enjoyed," Franchitti told Motorsport.com. "It's not a substitute for driving the car, but it's been very interesting and really rewarding actually. I've kept a close eye on what's been going on day-to-day.
I'm an old purists and I was saying oh, this shouldn't happen, but afterwards I apologized (to Walker and Miles), saying 'I think you guys got it right.'
Dario Franchitti on Indy GP
IndyCar has struggled for viewership as of late, despite spectacular on-track action. While talking with Dario, I asked him to discuss the current state of the sport and to give his take.
"Racing in general is having a tough time with funding, whether it's Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR ... Everybody is struggling to a degree to keep the grids going because of funding. That's a tough situation for teams, mechanics, drivers, and the sport itself. "
Racing and grids are as good as they've ever been
"The competition in IndyCar is bloody strong. Everybody is saying that it's as good as it's ever been. Look at the amount of drivers that won races last year and the competition for the championship. Look at the on-track action ... With very few exceptions, it was incredible racing."
Then you have Bryan Herta who has got the chance and the ability to be a really good team owner going forward if some sponsors actually paid their bills.
Dario Franchitti on the struggles of being a team owner
"There's a very high standard of teams and drivers on the grid. Again this year, we're going to have a very strong rookie class coming in. There's also a couple new events with Brazil and the track in New Orleans. It's not easy right now from a financial aspect for any type of racing, but from a competition aspect, it's been very positive."
Indy GP ... A positive change or inappropriate
One change that has angered some traditional fans was the controversial addition of the Indy GP to the month of May, some almost considering it sacrilegious for IndyCar to run anything other than the 500 on that track. Dario, as he revealed, was actually one of them before changing his stance after the event.
"I'm an old purists and I was saying oh, this shouldn't happen. That day though, it was a great event. It was exciting and I think it kicked off the month of May very, very well. It was a positive addition to IndyCar and to the month of May. I actually went up to to Mark Miles and Derrick Walker and made my feelings known but afterwards, I apologized, saying 'I think you guys got it right.'"
Dario Franchitti, the team owner?
Since Dario's passion for racing is still burning hot, it led me to wonder if we could one day see 'Franchitti Racing' on the grid in the future. The answer I recieved was fairly black-and-white...
"I see what Chip (Ganassi) and Michael (Andretti) go through as team owners and I've spent a good time talking to Michael at the Formula E races. We go back a long way as friends and I've had him as a boss, as a teammate. We talk a lot and discuss that aspect of things and it's just an incredibly tough business."
That kind of pack racing (in 2011), which I did not enjoy, they were never easy to drive. It was a very scary thing to do that but now ... You're really in control of your own destiny
Dario Franchitti on oval racing in IndyCar now
"These guys take massive risks. I sat and watched Chip at Indianapolis as Tony's car ran out of fuel and Scott had the issue when he spun. A lot of things can happen that are out of an owner's control and I sat and watched Chip deal with that and I'm not sure I could do that. Then you have Bryan Herta who has got the chance and the ability to be a really good team owner going forward if some sponsors actually paid their bills."
"For me, I'm in a perfect position where I get to contribute and work with Ganassi, but I don't have to do all that other stuff that I don't think I would be any good at to be honest. "
Oval racing is safer, but it can never be fully safe
Since the tragic death of Dan Wheldon at Las Vegas in 2011, we've seen a dramatic change in the way IndyCar races on high-banked ovals go down. They no longer resemble a NASCAR race at Daytona or Talladega, something that Dario believes IndyCar officials have done a great job with.
I do think the offseason is too long and I'm certainly not alone in that.
Dario Franchitti on IndyCar's six-month break
"Obviously, it's never fully safe and there's a constant development going on with safety. They've done a fantastic job of taking the down force away and opening up the racing though. It's been over a year since I drove on one of those tracks, but I can tell you whether it's Auto Club, Texas, or any of those kinds of places ... The cars are sliding around all the time. It's a proper handful and trust me, with that kind of pack racing, which I did not enjoy ... They were never easy to drive. It was a very scary thing to do that but now you have the car sliding around a lot more and you're really in control of your own destiny, which is what the drivers were asking for."
Six-month offseason 'needs to be changed'
If you took a look at Motorsport.com, many of the stories on the site since Will Power was crowned champion have been talking about the offseason, more specifically, the length and dullness of it. It kills any momentum that the series builds during an exciting year of racing and many people believe that a six-month break is just way too long. including Dario.
Indy Lights has the new car, which I think is something that's been needed for a long time ... (It) has the shot in the arm it needs.
Dario Franchitti on Indy Lights
"I do think the offseason is too long and I'm certainly not alone in that. I've heard that comment from 95% of people and I'd like to see that changed for all the reasons you just said. It's very difficult to keep that momentum going from that fantastic season we had in 2014 when there's such a long offseason. I hope that's changed. My opinion, February-March time to October is doable but I think doing some one-off races in the winter, that would also be good."
Series on the rise
As we concluded our 30 minute talk, I had one final question for racing legend. What form of motorsport is on the rise right now and needs to be looked at. I mentioned Formula E and Pirelli World Challenge myself.
"This year, Formula E is completely new. It has great teams and a stout driver lineup and in my opinion, it has the chance to be something quite impressive but again, it is completely different that what's come before."
"I'd love to see IndyCar continue that upward momentum. I think sports car series in America, well the prototype ranks are struggling, but the GTs are quite strong. Pirelli World Challenge to me looks very interesting. Great cars, great diversity in the cars."
"Indy Lights has the new car, which I think is something that's been needed for a long time. It's a massive positive for that series and then you have guys like Trevor Carlin are coming over from Europe and I think Indy Lights finally has the shot in the arm it needs."
V8 Supercars on the downslide?
I also thre in the topic of V8 Supercars, whose popularity and excitement can not be understated. They've taken a couple hits as of late though, mostly on the manufacturer side.
"I was lucky enough to race in Surfers Paradise and I've followed it forever. I think it's a brilliant series with great racing, fantastic cars, good tracks. I pretty much love anything Australia anyway. You see this ebb and flow of manufacturer involvement."
"The people there will sort it out, they have really smart management." Throwing in a positive, Dario wanted to mention the fact that Roger Penske and Marcos Ambrose are joining the grid for 2015, a huge boost for the pinnacle of Australian motorsport and in my opinion, touring car racing in general.