Reflective Dario Franchitti Puts Success in Perspective
Jim McGill, SPORT.scotman.com
Bathgate's Dario Franchitti may be known for driving his Target Ganassi IndyCar at speeds of over 220mph on the Indianapolis 500 oval, but for the past 10 days his preferred mode of transport has been his mum's Honda CR-V.
"What's this snow like?" the triple IndyCar champ and double Indy500 winner, back in the UK for a pre-Christmas break, laughed. "It's a total nightmare. We got back here, opened the garage and I realised I had nothing to cope with the snow."
So Franchitti, whose everyday car in Scotland is his 469bhp supercharged V8 Mercedes E55, phoned his mum.
"I had three feet of snow in my driveway, and my driveway's like three-quarters of a mile long," he explained. "My E55 won't go the length of itself in the snow, so I needed something with four-wheel-drive and the Honda's been bulletproof. So yeah, I've been driving my mum's CR-V. How cool's that?"
Franchitti is, without question, coolness personified. We met in the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, along with his team boss Chip Ganassi, for afternoon tea ahead of Sunday's Autosport Awards, where he won the Earl Howe trophy (right). Frayed baseball cap, casual, loose-fitting jumper and designer jeans, he's so laid back he's almost horizontal.
But then that's the way he's always been. Well before he headed to the States in the late Nineties to try and carve out a career in single-seater cars, Franchitti had an enviable honesty and openness which came from having had a well-grounded West Lothian upbringing.
Today the multi-millionaire, who is married to Hollywood actress Ashley Judd, is acknowledged as one of the best racers ever to compete in the States; a point highlighted by Ganassi.
"How good's Dario? In my mind he's unquestionably one of the greats," stated Ganassi, whose team - team almost does him a disservice; it's more like an institution - this year dominated IndyCar and Nascar winning the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 the Indy500 and IndyCar Championship. Oh, not forgetting a Grand-Am championship.
"How he races at the end of the season is how he races in April, in June, in July. He's a grinder. I used to hate those guys when I raced. He's always there. He always sees every race as a means to winning the championship. He's a championship racer; and winner. That's why he's in my team."
Franchitti, eschewing the slightly stewed tea, preferring his decaf cappuccino, just smiled slightly awkwardly, before turning to his boss: "So I guess now would be a good time to ask for a pay rise.
"You know, it's just numbers — race wins and championships," the Scot, a global TW Steel ambassador, continued, refocusing on the praise. "But you know me, I've won a few races and a few championships now; I just do my job.
It's for other people to gauge how well I've done compared to other drivers."
Without question, Franchitti is now the benchmark by which the current crop of singleseat racers are measured against in the States. His professionalism and dedication is insurmountable, but only now - more than two months since he clinched his third IndyCar title at Homestead in Florida on October 2 - is he allowing himself so reflect on his achievements.
"Distance has given me some perspective," he explained. "When it happened I couldn't quite comprehend a difference between the first two championships I'd won.
"It takes me a while to process it. You get that immediate sense of satisfaction, but it takes a while for it to sink in. I have a very narrow field of focus. Actually, I was just riding a bike down the road in the Australian outback, with nothing else in my mind a few weeks back, when what I'd achieved this season really hit me.
"And then somebody said something the other day about 'three-time IndyCar champ and two-time Indy500 winner'; that gave me a real buzz."
What's giving Franchitti a new buzz is the anticipation of seeing his cousin Paul di Resta graduate to a Formula One race seat with Force India next season.
"There's no question in my mind that Paul deserves his opportunity in F1," he stated simply. "He's more than proven himself in the Friday test sessions this season, and I know he's ready to do a job in F1.
"Don't forget, he won the DTM Championship with Mercedes in the final race of the year, so he knows how to handle pressure. I'm not privy to any insider knowledge; when Paul has some news to tell me on what's happening to him in F1, he'll let me know. Till then, just like everyone else, I'll have to wait."