CHAMPCAR/CART: Franchitti press conference, part II

CART FedEx Championship Series Media Teleconference Presented by WorldCom May 21, 2002 An Interview with Dario Franchitti Part 2 of 2 CART testing and preparation Q And talk also a moment about having to test to maintain your points lead in...

CART FedEx Championship Series Media Teleconference Presented by WorldCom
May 21, 2002
An Interview with Dario Franchitti

Part 2 of 2
CART testing and preparation

Q   And talk also a moment about having to test to maintain your points
lead in the CART FedEx Championship Series and having to qualify.  You're
going from a road course to an oval.  Is it hard to get everything sorted in
your head?  Mentally does it wear on you?

Dario Franchitti: No. I think I've been out in the car every day mentally, it wears on you a bit. I have to say it's like a breath of fresh air to come back and drive the CART here at Mid-Ohio. Again, that's another car that's new to me because it's the first time I've driving the Lola these last couple days we've run here. That's been something new to learn as well.

I really love driving on road courses, and Mid-Ohio is a fantastic place. To get back into the car with all that power and, you know, the technology, it's been a lot of fun. It really has been a breath of fresh air for me to do that, you know, kind of refocus again for next weekend when we have the Indy 500.

Q Almost like a mini vacation?

Dario Franchitti: Absolutely (laughter).

Merrill Cain:  Tell us a little bit about the Lola, trying to get used to
that.  How has it been for you?  What can you tell us about the car?

Dario Franchitti: I mean, the main thing for me, I'm notorious for getting comfortable in the car. When I get comfortable, I'm pretty happy in the car. It's just been moving seats around, steering wheel height, that sort of stuff. For me, there's sort of normal seating problems. The guys have all the seating problems of running a new car. Just gets used to those cars and sort of feeling the car out, see what sort of things it likes, what setup changes, what effect they have on the car. That's what we're doing here.

As of right now, I'm very, very happy with the car. Without getting too carried away, it feels great. Yesterday was a good day, a day where just we'll continuing in the same vein. The guys from Honda, it's an engine test here, and Honda is doing some extensive work here as well. They're definitely making progress. It's been a good couple of days.

Q I guess you wouldn't be testing at Mid-Ohio if you were still in the Reynard, or would you be?

Dario Franchitti: Well, this engine test was scheduled I guess like four months ago. So, yeah, we would have been here. But it's obviously got the extra bit of meaning here that we're swapping cars.

We had the days to use anyway. We didn't use our full quota in the preceding months, so now this is our sort of chance to use a full quota of days.

Q Did you ever think you'd have a feeling that you were in the car too much?

Dario Franchitti: I'm sure that could happen. But it hasn't happened yet. We had a couple days holiday, but a strategic holiday last Thursday, Friday. I went back to home. I had a couple days away from the car. That was definitely rejuvenating. It sort of cleared my head a bit.

Q I've never actually been to Indy. Is it like, say, Michigan where it doesn't matter if you qualify 28th?

Dario Franchitti: No, I don't know, because I haven't -- as I say, I haven't raced the cars before, so I don't know how it's going to play out. The corners are certainly tighter than Michigan or Fontana. I really don't know. I can't say yet how that's going to work out.

Q Kind of an expansion on the former question there. It really doesn't matter where you qualify in this race. History says if you're near the front you can usually do pretty well. Where you are on the grid, have you thought about that? You're okay from there? What is your race day strategy? What have other veterans of the race been telling you what play out on race day?

Dario Franchitti: Absolutely, 500-mile race. Last year, Michigan, went from last to second. So, yeah, as you say. But this is a different track, a different ballgame. My goal is to go in there and win the race. I hope right now we can win from that far back. As you say, it's a long race, got to take it one step at a time, you know, pick and choose your moments.

Q The CART guys, I ask them what they feel the difference is between the IRL machinery and the CART machinery. Vasser talked about the lack of horsepower, 200 horsepower less than the CART car. In your experience, what are the differences, how it feels underneath your seat, the differences between the two cars?

Dario Franchitti:  I mean, for sure, the lack of horsepower is number one.
You really notice that.  You notice the gearbox is very  -- this gearbox in
the Champ car, we have a flat shift mechanism.  You really can shift,
up-shift with just your fingertips.  Then downshifting, you can do that
very, very quickly.  The IRL car, you have to lift the shift.  The gearbox
is a lot heavier.  It feels not as technically advanced, for sure, as the
CART car.  That's one of the main differences.

You feel the weight of the engine up there. Higher center of gravity at the back of the car. The car is very, very sensitive to conditions. You know, I guess when the weather changes, you not only lose grip, you also lose horsepower. It's a very different machine.

Q   Being No.  1 in the points in CART, I imagine it's difficult to have
this long break.  I can imagine you're anxious to get back to racing.

Dario Franchitti: I haven't really thought about it that way because I've been so busy with doing the 500. You know, the plan was always -- you know, my main focus I said all along is the CART championship. The month of May is going to be a distraction from that.

It's like I've got sort of two different parts to my brain. I've got what I'm doing today, which is working on the Champ car, working with the Honda guys, Lola guys, all that, getting the car set up for Milwaukee, Laguna, all those type of places, then I've got what I'm doing next Sunday.

Yeah, it's actually been quite nice to have the month off and be the points leader for this long (laughter). As far as that goes, you know, the most important thing now is for me the Milwaukee, Laguna, Portland section of races, trying to do the best possible results there, then we'll look to the next races after that.

Q You've been first before. When you look down the schedule, is it possible to map out a way to close it so you end the season in first place?

Dario Franchitti: I don't know that you can be that precise about it because the way you look at these things, you go out every weekend, you do your best, you try to win every race. If you can't win it, you try and finish second, that type of thing, because you never know what's going to happen. You never know if you're going to have a problem, somebody's going to run into you, have a mechanical failure. You just never know. That's all you can do is just do your best every weekend.

Q When you're testing at Mid-Ohio, a different course than an oval. Very different than Laguna, some of the other road courses on the schedule. Are there certain turns where you can set the car up to say, This approximates this track?

Dario Franchitti: You know, not really. What you're doing here, we're sort of getting -- we're very much finding what the car likes in a very general sense. We're just generally finding what the car likes so that when we do have an imbalance at Laguna or Portland, we can say, "We know this works, let's try that."

Q Getting a baseline so when you get to Laguna or Portland, you don't have to go so far to get it dead on?

Dario Franchitti: Every track is different. As I said, we're just finding what the car likes in general, in general terms, what adjustments have what effect. You know, each track has a different baseline for sure, setup.

Q How is married life treating you?

Dario Franchitti: It's good, thank you.

Q That was quick and short. Do you have any hesitation about going into the race at Indianapolis, never having been there before? Anything that might be different with 33 cars, three-wide start? Have you ever done one of those before?

Dario Franchitti:  No, I mean, everything is different, isn't it?
Completely different car.  Completely different  -- in general, the people
I'm racing against are different people.  It's a track I've never raced on
before, so it's all new.  It's kind of exciting.

Q How was practice? Did you get a sense if you were able to draft, how it is to run side by side there?

Dario Franchitti: Yeah, a bit. Not as much as I would like. Hopefully on carb day we can do more. It's one of those situations you go out to do a qualifying run, the track is busy. You go out to practice, race setup, the track is deserted. We did run in traffic a good bit. We did some full tank runs, all that sort of stuff. I think we're reasonably well-prepared for the race.

Q What do you plan to do on carburetion day, make sure there's no leaks?

Dario Franchitti: Leak check, for sure. Probably try and do a couple laps. I'm not really sure. We haven't really discussed that. As I say, we're just really working on the Mid-Ohio today and we'll discuss carburetion day tomorrow.

Q CART almost went to an IRL-like car for next year, then decided to keep the existing cars. Do you feel that was a wise decision? Sounded like from your comments you were happy to be back in the Champ car.

Dario Franchitti: I really enjoy driving the Champ car. You know, it's just so much fun with all that power. It's got all that grip, driving on a road course. I've always felt that with these cars. It really -- some of the tracks we get to race on, from a driver's point of view it's brilliant.

I think it is a good move by CART because, you know, as far as the costs and stuff, I think they've made the right decision. I think the IRL car could be made to work on the road course and stuff, but I think we'd certainly have to change the gearbox and all that sort of stuff.

I'm a real fan that this formula that CART has just now, the powerful turbo engines and stuff. I really do enjoy driving them.

Q Are you then a little bit disappointed horsepower will be down next year?

Dario Franchitti: Yeah. I've been sort of -- my favorite was when we really had the 40 inches of boost, the real big horsepower. Those were really hard to drive, and you knew you had a lot of power. You know, you still have comparatively a lot, but it's still less than I guess the good old days. That shows how long I've been in the series, I guess (laughter).

Q Do you notice any difference horsepower-wise from last year to this year?

Dario Franchitti: Just a bit less. The Honda guys are here on an engine test and they're working really hard to bring back some of that deficit. They're doing a pretty good job.

Q There's been talk about tire wear at Indy with the new surface, the grinded surface. Have you been experiencing any problems? Do you feel your tires will last as long as the fuel will last in the tank?

Dario Franchitti: Firestone has done a good job there. You know, the problem we've experienced, it's been almost a green track every day because of the rains. You know, the tire wear isn't much more severe on a green track. Everybody finds that. But the days when you actually had two set of consecutive days running, we definitely found tire wear was a lot better. I think we're going to be okay. I think it's not an issue.

Q What do you see race speed being at, approximately?

Dario Franchitti: I have no idea. I just don't know. I think it will certainly be a lot faster than last year.

Q Going into Milwaukee the following week after Indy, I assume you're going to be using the Lola.

Dario Franchitti: Absolutely, yeah.

Q Do you have a baseline for that?

Dario Franchitti: Yeah. I mean, we have a reasonable baseline. You know, with Paul and Michael having driven the car at Japan, that's given us some information on what it likes. Lola also provides baseline settings and the team comes up with their sort of take on that.

Yeah, hopefully have a good baseline.

Q Shouldn't be any real major problem transcending from the Indy car at Indianapolis to the Champ car at Milwaukee then?

Dario Franchitti: No, no. I mean, as I said, jumping back and forth, road course back to Indy with different cars and all that, just got to remember what you're doing.

Q The introduction of this safer wall at Indianapolis, we've had a lot of press releases on the benefits and everything. A number of years ago CART had the soft wall at Rio. From a driver's perspective, how do you view it? Would you like to see it at CART ovals?

Dario Franchitti: Touch wood, I haven't had anything to do with it yet. Hopefully that will remain true. I was watching a couple of the practice sessions, in particular I think Robby McGehee's accident, that was a big accident, it seemed to help him.

I mean, I think if it does work, and it seems to, then it would be great to have it on some of the CART ovals. I hope the people at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I hope they're going to make that available to all tracks, all formulas of racing, you know, all types of racing. That would be -- a safety thing, that's the correct thing to do, no matter whether it's CART, IRL, NASCAR, whatever, they should be freely available for anybody to use.

Merrill Cain: Thanks again for joining us today. We'll all be keeping a close eye on you and the rest of the CART drivers in the field Sunday at Indianapolis. We look forward to seeing you at round four the CART FedEx Championship Series, The Miller Lite 250 at the Milwaukee Mile June 2nd. Best of luck testing the rest of the afternoon, too.

Dario Franchitti: Thanks, we'll see you there.

-cart-
Franchitti, part I

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About this article
Series Atlantic , IndyCar
Drivers Robby McGehee , Dario Franchitti