Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines: 1. Franchitti focused on wins, not history 2. Lights champ Vernay looks toward future 3. Championship facts by the numbers 4. Vote for final Firestone Tire-ific Move of the Race...
Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines:
1. Franchitti focused on wins, not history
2. Lights champ Vernay looks toward future
3. Championship facts by the numbers
4. Vote for final Firestone Tire-ific Move of the Race of 2010
1. Franchitti focused on wins, not history: Before Dario Franchitti went out and won the PEAK Performance Pole Award for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship-deciding race, Chip Ganassi asserted that the second-year Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver should be considered among the best of all-time.
A day later -- with a record-tying three IZOD IndyCar Series championships, two Indianapolis 500 victories and 26 Indy car career wins -- the team owner's statements require deeper consideration. At Chicagoland Speedway in August, Franchitti tied Rodger Ward for 11th on the all-time list. Next in his sights is Johnny Rutherford, and matching Rick Mears (29) isn't out of the question.
"I think he's definitely come on," said teammate Scott Dixon, a two-time series champion who won the season-ending Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 to secure third place in the championship. "They say that kind of about triathletes; your mid-30s are kind of your peak. He's getting close to 40. So he's stretching the window.
"I think the determining factor for a lot of people when they get to that age, if they have the will to do it, and you know whether they want to get up and train and do those things and make it worthwhile. And Dario, still you can see the fire. You can see that he's an extremely competitive person. Right now, you'd have to say that he's at his peak."
Franchitti, who has come from behind to clinch each of his championships in the final race, says the fire is kindled by the success and "the fun I'm having (competing) in the series." But the self-effacing Scot won't be drawn into discussions of his current or projected place among the greatest names. The formal presentation of the inaugural A.J. Foyt Oval Championship Trophy is an example of his reverence for the sport.
"I said, 'Oh, my God, it's A.J. Foyt,' '' he said. "We were sitting, talking away like old buddies. I'm thinking, 'It's A.J. Foyt.' Then Mario (Andretti). I know him from my years driving with Mike. But I'm thinking it's Mario, Rick Mears. These guys are legends of the sport. And these guys are special.
"Look back to the start of 2007. I hadn't won a championship. I won a lot of races not a championship or Indy 500. Now we find ourselves with two '500s' and three championships. I'm just going to enjoy it. I think I'm just going to let it sink in, enjoy it. I'm very proud of the achievement."
Franchitti totaled three victories this season (to chief competitor Will Power's five), and it was the consistency throughout the 17-race season on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports that again sealed the deal. A gearbox issue at Iowa in mid-June (18th place after starting fifth) and missing the car's set-up at Long Beach in mid-April (started and finished 12th) were the only finishes out of the top 10.
Following Iowa, when he trailed Power by 14 points, Franchitti reeled off eight consecutive top-five finishes (including victories at Mid-Ohio and Chicagoland).
"I think Japan was possibly one of the most aggressive and trouble-free races, mistake-free races I've ever driven, probably in the top five races I've ever driven in my life," said Franchitti, who advanced to positions to second and gained five critical points on the hard-charging Power who finished third.
That closed the deficit heading into the title-deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to 12 points. Franchitti earned the bonus point for winning the PEAK Performance Pole Award and secured the two bonus points for leading the most laps (on Lap 118 of 200). When Power's No 12 Verizon Team Penske car brushed the wall on Lap 135, bending the right-rear wishbone, Franchitti's revised goal was to finish in the top 10 to clinch the title.
"It's very difficult to kind of compare the three," he said. "For whatever reason, we at Team Target -- both Scott and myself -- maybe didn't have the speed advantage we had last year. In some cases we have to work harder to finish in the top 5 at races.
"So to come away with a championship after a season like that is very satisfying. And we look back to Iowa and think to that gearbox, that took a lot of points away, and from then on it was a real struggle. But nobody on the Target team gave up. We did our best every single week.
"If I can keep operating at (this) level, who knows. Allow me to continue that. I'm just loving it."
2. Lights champ Vernay looks towards future: J.K. Vernay didn't know what 2010 held for him at the beginning of the year.
After a solid year in the F3 Euro Series and a strong performance in the Macau Grand Prix, the 22-year-old Frenchman had options to compete in Touring Cars in Germany or moving to Japan to race when his management group suggested a test with perennial Firestone Indy Lights contender Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
The rest is history.
Despite not knowing any of the tracks when the season began, Vernay led the championship from start to finish. He clinched the Firestone Firehawk Cup as Firestone Indy Lights champion by taking the green flag in the Oct. 2 Fuzzy's Ultra Premium Vodka 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
"You never know if it's a big solution, but it was a really great thing to come (to America)," Vernay said. "Winning the championship and being Firestone Indy Lights champion is a great thing. We won five races and had nine podiums. That is a great first year in America, but it's just one step. This is just like I graduated from college and now I have to get a good job."
That job, of course, is a ride with an IZOD IndyCar Series team for 2011. Vernay hopes his on-track performance has impressed future employers and knows he has some important selling points when it comes to landing his next job.
"I'm a better driver than I was when I got here," he said. "I've improved since the end of last year. I finished in F3 with five podiums and I arrived here and I led the championship all year. After Indy, (James) Hinchcliffe and (Charlie) Kimball cut the lead to only five points, but when I had to win, the team did it. That is credit to the team for giving me a car to do that. I never had problems with the car all year long."
Vernay knows he still has much to learn about racing in North America's top open-wheel racing series -- especially when it comes to oval racing. But he's confident his experience in Firestone Indy Lights has prepared him for the next level.
"What I want to do is IndyCar," Vernay said. "That's why we chose Indy Lights. I have the title and the normal way is for the champion to go to IndyCar. It's the next step. Everybody knows it's not easy to get there, but I'm really confident that we will have a good deal with a good team.
"I like racing in America. The environment is very different than in Europe and it's been a pleasure to race here. I still have a lot to learn on ovals, but I was still competitive this year and feel like I can be in IndyCar. On road tracks, I know I can be competitive. I hope to stay in America for a long time."
3. Championship facts by the numbers: Some numbers to note regarding the IZOD IndyCar Series championship and the Firestone Indy Lights championship.
3 -- IZOD IndyCar Series championships for Dario Franchitti, matching Sam Hornish Jr. for most titles in series history. Franchitti has won the title in the last three seasons he has raced. (He did not compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2008)
3 -- Consecutive IZOD IndyCar entrant championships for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The first team to win three straight titles. Panther Racing (2001 and 2002 with Sam Hornish Jr.) and Andretti Autosport (2004 Tony Kanaan and 2005 Dan Wheldon) are the only other teams to win back-to-back title.
4 -- Firestone Indy Lights drivers' championships for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. It previously won the drivers' championship with Thiago Medeiros (2004), Jay Howard (2006) and Alex Lloyd (2007).
5 -- Points separating Dario Franchitti and Will Power in the final IZOD IndyCar Series point standings. It's the second-closest point margin in series history. Scott Sharp and Buzz Calkins tied for the championship with 246 points in the three-race inaugural season in 1996. Sam Hornish Jr. won the title on a tiebreaker -- the most victories -- over Dan Wheldon when both finished with 475 points in 2006.
5 -- Drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 and the national championship in the same season at least twice during their careers. Franchitti (2007 and 2010) joins A.J. Foyt (1961, 1964, 1967), Louis Meyer (1928, 1933), Wilbur Shaw (1937, 1939) and Rodger Ward (1959, 1962).
7 -- Number of Firestone Indy Lights champion J.K. Vernay. The car also carried Jay Howard (2006) and Alex Lloyd to titles.
10 -- Number of IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti. He is the only driver to take the championship using the number.
23 -- Points separating J.K. Vernay and James Hinchcliffe in the final Firestone Indy Lights point standings. It's the second-closest point margin in series history. Jay Howard beat Jonathan Klein by four points (390-386) in 2006.
59 -- Points margin overcome by Dario Franchitti in the final four races. It's the largest margin overcome by the eventual champion in that time frame. The previous best comeback was in 1996-1997 when Tony Stewart (who was fourth, 42-points behind Davey Hamilton with four races to go) won the title by 6 points.
4. Vote for final Firestone Tire-ific Move of the Race of 2010: The $10,000 prize is awarded after each IZOD IndyCar Series race to the driver best utilizing his or her Firestone tires to make a bold, dramatic move during the event. Nominees from the Cafes do Brasil Indy 300 are Tony Kanaan for charging hard all night before finishing third; Danica Patrick for the Lap 198 pass of Kanaan that led to her runner-up finish and Vitor Meira for advancing 15 positions to finish sixthFans can vote this week at www.indycar.com to determine the winner.