*** IndyCar Series driver Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing (via satellite from Homestead, Fla.) After running stock cars last year, how long is it going to take you to get comfortable in the car again and how important is this...
IndyCar Series driver Dario Franchitti of Target Chip Ganassi Racing (via satellite from Homestead, Fla.)
After running stock cars last year, how long is it going to take you to get comfortable in the car again and how important is this test at Homestead that started Tuesday for you to accomplish that?
DF: I think the test is hugely important. I did, I would say, 70 or 80 laps last [Tuesday] night and I was starting to get comfortable by the end. But those first 20 laps, man, the things were coming at me fast. The last time I drove here [Homestead] was in the Nationwide car at the end of '07 and I don't know what the average speed was but last night we were running average speeds of 210 [miles per hour] and it was all coming at me a bit quick. So I had to just let the brain start to speed up again as it needs to. It feels good. I think the good thing for me is that the Target cars are really quick and that helps me. I know we don't have to work on the car so much for speed. I've just got to get myself back up to the level that I need to be at.
Can you talk about your disappointment from last year as far as stock cars are concerned and the disappointment you had transitioning back?
DF: There's disappointment that I didn't win anything. I've been lucky enough to win in everything I've ever done so to come over and have everything cut short by not having a sponsor it was pretty tough to take. I felt at the start I was really struggling to understand the car and the cars weren't particularly competitive at that time, either, but the more I ran the better it was getting at driving the cars and understanding the car, the better the team was getting. But unfortunately I broke my ankle and that set us back again so it was a character- building year but there were definitely some high times and starting to run more competitively in Sprint Cup was really satisfying for me toward the end. Unfortunately for a bunch of reasons, we didn't get the results we were probably looking at and then running the Nationwide car and qualifying on pole on the road course, qualifying for the front row at Bristol and running up front there and leading a bunch of laps at that race gave me a lot of satisfaction but it would have been nice to have kept that going, but it wasn't to be. When I sat down with [team owner] Chip [Ganassi] and we talked about Indy cars we did it at an Indy car race so the deck was kind of stacked in favor because I watched the cars going round and round on the street course at Detroit and at that point I realized, okay, I have been missing driving these things a lot and the chance to get in the Target car in a unified series - all those things stacked up and we did the deal.
Is there anything you learned from your NASCAR experience that you can apply now in IndyCar?
DF: Absolutely. I've been driving the Indy car for a long long time -- over 10 years -- and I got used to driving the car a certain way and I was comfortable in that. When I went over to drive in the NASCAR series, Nationwide or Sprint Cup, I had to take myself out of that comfort zone. I had to learn to drive a car completely differently, a lot looser than I would have driven, a completely different feeling, a different style of racing, becoming more aggressive. All those things were plusses and things I learned. I've been lucky enough in my career to always be with good teams and never have been in a situation of losing a sponsor like that and not being able to run so that was character building. A lot of my friends have gone through that before so I take something away from everything I learned last year.
NASCAR suspended pre-season testing due to the economy, but IRL did not. Having driven in both series, do you think the IRL should have followed NASCAR's example and saved the teams some money for their cars?
DF: Well, I'm quite happy now that we've got some testing but it's very limited. We have two days here at Homestead with all cars from the series. We have two days in Barber Motorsports Park on the road course and that's it for pre-season testing. They're really tightening up the testing rules. There's not really any private testing -- I think each team gets a couple, three days or something and that is it so they're really trying to tighten things up. I think obviously the guys over in NASCAR had to do that and they felt they had to do it. I hear the guys speaking on the various shows that they have felt that impact and it's saved them money. Right now I'm glad we're getting a couple days running because I'm getting back up to speed.