After rehabbing his surgically repaired back following an April motorcycle accident that cut short the Scot's first Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season and weighing his various options, Dario Franchitti has elected to return to Andretti Green Racing (AGR) to drive the #27 Dallara/Honda in 2004.
"To say I am eager to get going again would be a huge understatement," Franchitti noted while announcing his plans to race the full 2004 season with AGR. He competed in just three IndyCar Series events in 2003.
"My recovery has been going very well and I know I'm not quite through the process yet," Dario continued, "but I really can't wait to get back in an AGR car and work with my guys. I'm working very hard to regain my fitness and I feel like I'm a bit ahead of schedule. I am very focused on getting back to 100 percent," he declared.
Under the care of renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Terry Trammell, who performed surgery on Franchitti in July after his one-race return to competition at Pikes Peak International Raceway (where Franchitti finished fourth), "Dario is currently weaning himself from his brace and continuing to increase his general physical conditioning," Trammell noted.
"I would anticipate his healing process to continue normally, in which case he will be able to begin undertaking more vigorous activity in the near future," Trammell continued. "Once he is healed, his risk of a spine injury in the future will be no greater than it was before he was injured."
Team co-owner Michael Andretti, along with partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree is "really looking forward to having Dario back full-time next season. Dario will definitely give Andretti Green and Honda another real shot at winning the IndyCar Series championship because of his technical feedback, his team leadership and, obviously, his proven ability to win."
Yet the pain he felt and the fear of permanent disability sent Franchitti to Trammell, who decided to operate and suspend the driver's season. Andretti Green Racing then hired Bryan Herta to take the helm of the #27 Archipelago/Motorola Dallara/Honda. In only 11 races, Herta compiled one victory, three straight third-place finishes and earned 13th in the final standings.
Dario Franchitti made his Indy Racing League debut with the running of the 86th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, where he started 28th and finished 19th. His substitute for this year's Indy 500, Robby Gordon started third, yet gearbox troubles took him out after 169 laps.
The Indy Racing League begins its formal 2004 IndyCar Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway on February 29th with the second annual Toyota Indy 300. Dario Franchitti expects to be on the grid for that race and the balance of the 16-event campaign, driving the #27 Andretti Green Racing Dallara/Honda. Partners for the #27 car will be announced at a later date, according to the team.