Dario Franchitti to Join Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Drive No. 40 Dodge MODERATOR: "Good morning, everyone. I would like to welcome you all here and thank you for coming. My name is John Olguin and I am Vice President of ...
Dario Franchitti to Join Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates and Drive No. 40 Dodge
MODERATOR: "Good morning, everyone. I would like to welcome you all here and thank you for coming. My name is John Olguin and I am Vice President of Communications for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates.
I have the distinct pleasure to announce we signed 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series Champion Dario Franchitti to a multi-year deal to drive the No. 40 Dodge Avenger beginning in 2008.
Let me read a few stats for you:
* Franchitti will become the first European driver in the 59-year history of NASCAR to join the series full-time
* He becomes just the second reining open-wheel champion to make his way to NASCAR following Tony Stewart who did the same thing in 1997
* Franchitti has 180 starts under his belt between CART and IndyCar Series resulting in 18 wins, 17 poles, 63 top-fives and 95 top-10s
What we will do first is hear from Chip Ganassi and then from Dario, but first let me introduce a couple of other people. Driver of the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Juan Pablo Montoya is here and driver of the No. 41 Target Dodge Reed Sorenson. We also have Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates President Steve Lauletta, Team General Managers John Fernandez and Tony Glover.
I will now turn it over to Chip.
CHIP GANASSI (TEAM OWNER): Thanks, everybody. Good morning. I guess I am announcing probably one of the worst kept secrets in NASCAR over the last month or so, but it is quite an honor. I am really happy to be sitting here this morning. I am really happy that we finally concluded the contract negations to free Dario to be here this morning. I know he is looking forward to getting in the car. He and I have been talking about this for a long, long time. I can probably tell that story now if you don't mind me telling the story [looks over to Dario], you know the one I am thinking about? You know last year, he and I had some extensive talks about NASCAR. And I said you know I would like for you to drive for us and he said ok I would like to drive for you. Let's do something. And I had the unenviable position of calling him up a few days later, he was going back to Scotland or something and I had to call him up and tell him you know what, there is one guy on the planet that could've called and knocked you out of your seat. He and I had a conversation and I gotta tell you that seat is not available anymore. And it was the guy standing in the back there who is driving the No. 42 car now. I said, hey, you know this is a great place and I would like you to keep thinking about it. You never know what will happen. Things like that happen for a reason and that was all I could think about the day of the Indianapolis 500 when he won the Indianapolis 500. I thought you know things happen for a reason and so he didn't come to NASCAR last year. He stayed in the IRL and won the 500, won the championship though (inaudible) be it we were short of fuel I think on our team. I was a winner either way that day. Anyway, I am pretty excited to have him here. I am pretty excited to have him on our team. I'm really excited I should say. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen Dario Franchitti.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Morning. Thanks for coming out, everybody. This is an absolute honor to be here today announcing that we're going to be driving for Chip and the team here. I have had 11 great years in open-wheel racing. The time came for a new challenge and this is it. It is going to be a heck of a challenge to learn everything. You know, just sitting here with the experience of zero and I am going to be relying a lot on my new teammates. I have already been quizzing Juan this morning about all of these different things. When I get in the car in Talladega this weekend with the ARCA car it is going to be a big step. I am here to learn first of all. As I said, it is going to be difficult but an exciting challenge and that is what I have been looking for. Thank you, Chip, for having the faith to do this and I look forward to seeing you all around throughout the season and getting to know you all. Thank you.
Q: Dario, after you won Indy and what the season was like in July in Indy cars, you were complaining about not having enough time off at home. Do you have any idea that this thing is pretty much a 12-month a year job?
FRANCHITTI: I was promised 11 months [Dario smiles] [room fills with laughter]. I realize the schedule is going to be busy and I am told to prepare for that. I spoke to Juan when Chip and I started talking. He [Chip] said call Juan find out what he thinks. So, Juan did the big sale show. He said it is so much fun. You know the schedule, there are a lot of races but it is so much fun. You are going to love it. You should really do it. But then, in hindsight, I am not sure because he then told me about how everybody was really friendly. You know, Kevin Harvick and I we've gotten to be really good friends. Then, they went to Watkins Glen that week so I don't know . I know it is going to be busy. I'm here. I am here for the long term. I am here to learn first of all and to do the job that I am here to do.
QUESITON (Claire B. Lang, XM Satellite Radio): A question for Chip and for you, Dario, how will you prepare and what will you immediately start to do? What will you throw into the preparation? Chip, does this merge the worlds you love to have Juan Pablo and him driving for you now in NEXTEL?
GANASSI: Thanks, Claire. You know, obviously my relationship goes way back with Dario as well as Juan. In 1999, Juan and Dario tied for the points and then we won on the tie break. So, it goes back that far and probably further. Again, it is just racing. People always want to talk about how I am raiding the open-wheel series. That is a bit of slight to NASCAR. First of all, a lot of you have heard me say it. I don't care where the drivers come from. When good drivers are available, I think you have to look at them and take them. You have to take the best guys available out there. If a good guy becomes available, you are doing your team an injustice if you don't take a look at it. Number one. Number two, I am not rating Indy Car racing or the IRL. Nobody is a bigger supporter of open-wheel racing and Indy Car Racing than me. That series continues to grow. Like I said I don't care where the drivers come from. If they are good drivers and they are available, I want to talk to them.
Q: : And how are you preparing?
FRANCHITTI: I am just going to ask a lot of questions first of all. As I said, the first time I sat in a stock car was yesterday. I got in the thing and had a seat fitted.
GANASSI: That is not to say he hasn't driven what some of you might not be familiar with are saloon cars so he does have some experience.
FRANCHITTI: I did a couple years over in Germany with the DTS so I have driven with a roof over my head before. Like I said, I am going to be asking questions. I am going to be around just asking Reed, and Juan, and all of the crew chiefs, and all of the guys in the shop, and Chip. These guys have been through this before with Juan so I think that is really a big help to me because they went through those growing pains last year and just that transition. That is another big reason I came to the team because I knew this has all been done before.
Q: Did any of your wild rides from this past Indy Car season lead you to this decision?
FRANCHITTI: I would be lying if I said no. It was definitely a small part of the decision. There was a lot more to it than that. Like I said, I have been really intrigued by the challenge of NASCAR for quite a while. That was the main reason. Winning the Indy 500 and the championship made that decision even easier because I had achieved what I wanted to achieve. It was time to move on and time to jump into this world for me.
Q: Dario, have you and Chip laid out any milestones for success in the 2008 season. Some things you would like to achieve, a checklist of sorts?
FRANCHITTI: No, right now we are just taking it week by week. This program that Chip has to sort of introduce me to stock car racing with ARCA and Busch. You know, we really haven't talked that much about 2008, yet.
Continued in part 2