The Indycar Championship is a dying breed. One of the few old school top level motorsport championships, that is one that does not feature a “Chase to the Championship” or “Countdown to the Championship”, just a plain old season long most points wins the championship championship.
Dario Franchitti has been dominating the championship this year, but recently has seen his points lead eroded, all the way down to 8 points coming in to this weekends race at Sonoma, just north of San Francisco. Dario got everything right in qualifying and took the pole from a recently great in qualifying Danica Patrick. SO far everything was looking good for Franchitti.
Into the race and everything went to plan. Franchitti led and seemed to have everything under control, controlling the pace of the race mid distance ahead of title rivals, teammate Tony Kanan and Scott Dixon. Things were still looking good going into the last round of pitstops with under 20 laps to go, but it wasn’t to last.
Franchitti made his pitstop and was back in the lead, however Marco Andretti had left his pitstop late and leapfrogged the field to come out of the pits right in front of Franchitti. As they headed up the hill after the first corner, Andretti appeared to leave the window open slightly for Franchitti, so Franchitti dived up the inside. Andretti however closed the door as he headed for the apex, and the two Andretti Green teammates clashed, putting Marco into the wall, and leaving Franchitti with a broken front wing.
Under the resulting yellow, Franchitti still held the lead, but he did not know what effect the damaged wing would have, and whether he could hold on to the lead of the race. As soon as it went green they all bunched up behind him as he could not turn into the corner at the top of the hill, and suddenly both Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves were past him in a flash, with Tony Kanan right behind him.
So that was the way the race ran out, with Dixon taking the win, followed closely by Castroneves, then a large gap back to Franchitti, followed closely by Kanan, who spent the last few laps slowing up the rest of the field to ensure Franchitti finished third, in the process sacrificing his own chances at the championship.
“It was a pretty perfect day right up until Marco and I got together,” Franchitti said. “He was out there on cold tires going a good bit slower. Tony and I had a similar situation earlier in the race. Tony had given me the space. Hell, even Dixon did it on cold tires. But Marco was out there trying to win the race, and we were out there trying to win a championship.
“A case of, I guess, he had his priorities, I had mine. I really want to look at it and talk to Marco. We’re teammates. We look after each other and that shouldn’t happen.”
Team co-owner Michael Andretti said Franchitti should have been more patient with his son’s car, which Marco agreed.
“I gave racing room, and I was hoping he would race me clean,” said Andretti, who won the race in 2006. “I hate to think he’d do anything intentional. I was saving so much fuel, and that was the win right there. If we would have played fair, that would have happened.”
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Said Franchitti: “Michael is in an awkward position as a team owner and a father. Sometimes he doesn’t have as clear a view as he should have as a team owner maybe. I’m trying my hardest to win a championship right now for Andretti Green Racing. We’ll leave it at that.”
After his win Scott Dixon commented “The race was all about strategies, We were trying to save fuel early on. All kinds of people were trying to do the same things. Very hard to tell what was going on until sort of the last stint.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot of momentum out of the three (July race wins) in a row, then this last one. To be honest, the last two races they’ve had us covered. For some unknown reason we’ve still come out on top. I think it’s six races in a row we’ve earned more points than them. That is obviously going to cause a bit of questioning within the team and obviously a lot of stress. For us, we’ve just got to play as much as we can on that.
“It’s definitely tough for the amount of points they’ve lost over the course of those races. The more the merrier, to be honest.”
Finishing in 5th behind Kanan was Sam Hornish Jr who could not find a way past Kanan in the closing laps as he was protecting Franchitti. He was followed by Danica Patrick. She showed a lot of performance early in the race, and looked to be on for a 4th place finish, only to stall in the pits during her last pitstop, dropping back to 6th. She is getting stronger race by race, and with so re-organisation for next year expected, she will be right in the Championship fight and I am sure will win her first race.
Getting back to the Andretti Franchitti incident, the comments after the race are very interesting. For a team owner Michael Andretti does not seem to be very worried about winning a Championship. The incident really should be called a racing incident, however in this situation Marco really had no business getting in his Championship leading teammates way. The team should have realised what was going on and really should have not allowed ANdretti to come out in front of Andretti, as he could have slotted into second place as Franchitti had quite a gap over second at that point.
As for Franchitti’s part in this one, he saw a gap and probably thought Marco was moving over for him, after all he is leading the Championship and Marco was nowhere. He went for a gap that was open, and it got closed on him. He can only be happy that at least he did not wreck, but that is about it.
For a team owner Michael Andretti really did himself a dis-service today, and I am sure Dario Franchitti as well as his teammates will think seriously before re-signing for Michael, as today they saw the support they would receive from the team when they are leading the Championship. Michael would have been better to make no comment at all, rather than the nonsense that he did say.
The only team player out there for Andretti Green today was Tony Kanan. He gave up on his own Championship hopes to help out his teammate Franchitti. He could have blown past the ill handling Franchitti at any time, but he chose to stay behind him and protect Franchitti to help the team secure a season Championship, instead of going off and chasing Dixon and Castroneves. Michael Andretti owes Tony Kanan an apology after todays events.