Team KOOL Green driver Dario Franchitti, sidelined since sustaining a fractured pelvis and brain contusions from a Feb. 9 accident during Spring Training at Homestead-Miami Speedway, is scheduled to return to the cockpit Sunday and Monday at...
Team KOOL Green driver Dario Franchitti, sidelined since sustaining a fractured pelvis and brain contusions from a Feb. 9 accident during Spring Training at Homestead-Miami Speedway, is scheduled to return to the cockpit Sunday and Monday at Nazareth Speedway to determine his status for next week's season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota at Homestead.
Franchitti, a 1999 CART All-Star and runner-up in last season's FedEx Championship Series title race, is scheduled to test on the 1-mile oval in his KOOL Honda Reynard beginning with a closed session Sunday.
He will resume private testing Monday and Team KOOL Green is hopeful of making an announcement following the two-day test in regard to his official status for the season opener set for March 24-26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Dr. Terry Trammell, CART's Chief Orthopedic Consultant, will supervise the test.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back in the car and rejoining my team," Franchitti said. "I told them I didn't want anybody else in my seat. That's my car. I also want to thank all my friends and fans for their support and encouragement. They've been a big help to me."
Dr. Steve Olvey, CART Director of Medical Affairs, examined Franchitti late last week and cleared him to drive.
"Dario passed all the neurological and psychiatric tests and a MRI of the brain," Dr. Olvey said. "They were all normal. He is clear to test at the team's discretion. Dario clearly used the time off to his advantage. He looks great; he has a great attitude and his upper body strength is excellent."
Franchitti flew Friday to Europe, where he will spend a week with trainer Tony Matthis for strength conditioning. He will return to the United States later this week and prepare for his test at Nazareth. The sessions will be closed to the public and media. However, Team KOOL Green will provide daily reports of Franchitti's progress to media outlets.
Franchitti recorded three victories and two pole positions en route to a runner-up finish to Juan Montoya in last year's FedEx Championship Series championship. He and Montoya finished tied atop the drivers' standings with 212 points each - the first time in CART history that the points race had ended in a tie - but Montoya was awarded the title based on his series-high seven race victories. Franchitti also finished third in the 1998 FedEx Championship Series championship.
Several FedEx Championship Series teams are testing at Nazareth Speedway this week in preparation for Round 2 of the FedEx Championship Series, the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, April 7-9. Among those testing Tuesday were FedEx Championship Series champion and defending Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola) of Target/Chip Ganassi Racing; Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) of Marlboro Team Penske; and rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) of Team Rahal. Unofficially, de Ferran recorded the fastest speed at 184.615 mph (19.5 seconds), completing 100 laps on the 1-mile oval. Brack completed the most laps, 194, with a top speed of 183.673 mph (19.6 seconds). Montoya, who tested only in the afternoon, completed 90 laps with a top speed of 182.741 mph (19.7 seconds). All cars were outfitted with the new high-downforce variant of the Handford MkII Device, which has been mandated by CART for use on all 1-mile ovals. Team Rahal's Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), who is testing at Nazareth today, said the Handford Mk II will enhance the competition in next month's event. "This is going to be a much better race than last year," said Papis, who finished a career-best fifth in the championship last season. "With this new wing, you can really feel comfortable attacking the corners unlike last year. But I have always liked coming here. This is one of my favorite tracks."
Michael Andretti (Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Lola), no stranger to success on the oval at Homestead-Miami Speedway, completed 125 test miles on the 1.502-mile oval last Thursday in preparation for the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota, March 24-26. Despite windy conditions, Andretti ran a top lap of 25.61 seconds, one-tenth faster than the quickest time of 25.76 seconds recorded by Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) during Spring Training at Homestead last month. Andretti is a two-time winner (1997, '98) in FedEx Championship Series competition at Homestead and also recorded a runner-up finish there last year. "The conditions weren't the best because of the high winds, but despite that, we have learned a lot since Spring Training," Andretti said. "The car feels great. All of the elements are coming together for a great season. We always set our goals [for the next season] high during the off-season, but our testing has given us a good level of confidence. The Ford and the Lola have been working well. The team has been working well and I am ready to race. The competition is going to be tough, but I think we are in the best shape we have been in the past four years." Andretti's Newman/Haas Racing teammate, Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Lola), is wrapping up the team's off-season testing schedule today on the road course at Homestead.
Bettenhausen Motorsports driver Michel Jourdain Jr. (Herdez Mercedes Lola) completed three days of testing on the Homestead-Miami Speedway oval Sunday, his final test before the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota. "I am very happy with all the improvements we've made today, despite running under windy conditions," he said afterward. "I think we still need more laps before the season opener, and it was very good to test on the same track where we are going to have the first race of the 2000 championship. Now, I am just looking forward to racing here."
Bettenhausen Managing Director/Chief Engineer Tom Brown said Sunday was a particularly good day for the team. "We lost some track time the first couple of days, but today we got some good quality track, working basically on race setups instead of qualifying setups because this was our last day and we were trying to get ready for the race. We worked with Lola with the cooling system and I am very pleased with the engine. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we are very confident."
The Speedvision Network's 2000 FedEx Championship Series season preview will premiere Monday, March 20, at 10 p.m. ET. The one-hour program will receive five re-airs in the week leading up to the season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota, March 24-26 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.