IRL: Franchitti takes emotional win in Fontana

Dario Franchitti sure knows how to take an emotional win. He earned victory in CART's final race in Rockingham, England and later anointed that series' first race on Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, wearing the ...

Dario Franchitti sure knows how to take an emotional win. He earned victory in CART's final race in Rockingham, England and later anointed that series' first race on Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, wearing the #27 that was endemic to the late French Canadian.

This afternoon the Scot won the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series season- closing Toyota Indy 400 on California Speedway's 2-mile oval, a venue that holds terse memories for the driver. It was here that he lost his best friend, Canadian Greg Moore in CART's 1999 season closer.

After taking the checkered flags, Franchitti made tire smoking doughnuts in the same Turn 2 area where Moore met his fate. It was the same thing teammate Tony Kanaan did last year here when he achieved his IndyCar Series title.

The race was held on a gloomy, cool afternoon that threatened rain (after a morning sprinkle) but never delivered until after the checkered flags. Franchitti, who prevailed over Kanaan by 0.117 seconds, didn't lead the most laps but he did have the point for 68 of the 200 tours.

It all came down to the last few laps after the fourth and final caution period ended on lap 192. "I could see Tony's car coming but it was difficult to see as he was coming pretty quick. We were working together," Franchitti acknowledged, "and we were starting to pull away from the other guys," something they'd done throughout the contest.

"It was a good team effort; we all worked together. You can help people around here," he continued. The victory was "a bittersweet win here because I lost a good friend here, six years ago," Franchitti confirmed.

After qualifying 10th, Kanaan led 29 laps of the contest and hounded his teammate and good friend to the end. "When you have a close finish like this it's crazy," Kanaan explained.

"When I went to upshift, obviously I was upshifting and downshifting and something hit me. I tried to anticipate but thank God my teammate won. If it was going to be somebody else, I was going to be really mad."

Coming to California Speedway each year always "brings Greg's death closer to the surface" for Kanaan and Franchitti, both of whom were extremely close to Moore. "This place has given me a lot of joy because I won my championship here last year and won my Indy Lights title here in 1997, but it also has sadness too."

Vitor Meira finished third for his fourth podium of 2005 and seventh top- five result. Starting in 13th the Brazilian noted his car "felt good from the start" despite the green and dirty surface after morning rain swept away any accumulated rubber.

"We got an excellent start and moved into the leader's pack," where he remained all afternoon. "We were always kind of going after the track today. We made a few changes with the front wing and that is all, so the car was really good all day long."

Scott Sharp finished fourth in the same car that took Adrian Fernandez to victory here last season. With his stated goal this weekend to finish in the top five for season-long points, the result gave the veteran his wish - he finished fifth, just behind Franchitti.

"The guys gave me some great pit stops as they have all year," Sharp acknowledged. "That has been a real strength for us. We maximized what we had and got the job done."

By finishing fifth, Sam Hornish Jr. secured third in the point tally, demoting Franchitti to fourth and ruining Andretti Green Racing's hope for a one, two, three sweep. The two-time IRL champ overcame a drive-through penalty on a pit speed violation, managed to lead a single lap and "battled back to get on the lead lap and bring the car home in fifth. I have to hand it to my crew - they did a phenomenal job all day and today's result was truly a collaborative effort."

2005 IRL champ Dan Wheldon led seven laps and finished sixth this afternoon but thought "it was kind of difficult for me today. I had as much understeer as I've ever had in a race car to start the race so I somewhat purposely dropped to the back. Fortunately a yellow fell just as the right time and we did three turns of front wing and it certainly made the car much better," Wheldon explained. He turned the fastest lap of the race on the 46th tour at 219.485mph.

Tomas Scheckter led the most laps of any driver, 80, yet settled for seventh at the close. "I think we missed a little on the restart gears, which hurt us at the end." Scheckter also had a "major push off Turn 2 and couldn't catch up to the lead guys," once he exited the lead a final time on lap 124.

Teammate Tomas Enge was the highest placed rookie in eighth, glad "we could finish the last race for the guys. I was so lucky today but it was a great run." He, too, overcame a pit speed violation but didn't lose a lap.

Helio Castroneves finished ninth on "a tough day for us. The car was very inconsistent so we worked on it throughout the race but never got it quite right. Scott Dixon rounded out the top 10 with a car that had a hole in its front wing by the time the checkered flags flew, rendering the 2003 IRL champion unable to turn the wheel.

Bryan Herta was the final driver on the lead lap in 11th, while Buddy Rice took 12th, one lap back. Jimmy Kite had a fine run to 13th, followed by Cheever Racing teammates Alex Barron and Patrick Carpentier. Roger Yasukawa was the final driver to complete the race, two laps back in 16th.

The first incident occurred on lap 30, when A.J. Foyt IV crashed in the second turn. In his final regular season League contest, the younger Foyt made a half-spin to the left and heavy contact with the SAFER barrier. He was assisted from the car and taken to Loma Linda Medical Center for a CAT scan, complaining of knee pain.

A second caution came at the close of the 50th lap when Bryan Herta's visor flew off his helmet at speed, creating debris on the backstretch. Kosuke Matsuura brought out the yellow a third time when he crashed coming into the pits. The final caution occurred when Danica Patrick and Jaques Lazier tangled in Turn 4 while fighting for 7th place on lap 184. Neither driver was injured.

"It was a tough day," today's winner acknowledged. "We had a reasonably quick car but we were very, very loose this morning in warmup. We did some changes to that and it slowed us down," Franchitti explained. "We just struggled with understeer a bit. My crew did a fantastic job and we didn't make any mistakes. You think somewhere as big and wide open as Fontana would be all about horsepower, but it's really a combination of the two. You have to get the car handling right here."

The tenth season of IndyCar Series competition is over and next year's campaign starts in another six months. Dan Wheldon earned the championship and Tony Kanaan finished second, reversing their positions from 2004. Sam Hornish Jr. took third, Dario Franchitti was fourth and Scott Sharp was fifth. Helio Castroneves earned sixth, Vitor Meira seventh, followed by Bryan Herta, Tomas Scheckter and Patrick Carpentier completing the top ten in points.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Jaques Lazier  , Jimmy Kite , Adrian Fernandez , Patrick Carpentier , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Dan Wheldon , Gilles Villeneuve , Buddy Rice , Greg Moore , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira