Franchitti Looking to Improve Despite Solid Start
Tales Azzoni, AP
SAO PAULO — Dario Franchitti is not entirely pleased with his start to the IndyCar season despite having the lead in the drivers' standings going into Sunday's Sao Paulo 300.
Franchitti began defense of his IndyCar series title with a victory and two podium finishes ahead of Sunday's race in the streets of South America's biggest city. Still, the Scot feels he needs to improve on his performance to be competitive the rest of the year and remain in position to win his third straight championship.
"I'm not disappointed, but I'm also not completely happy," Franchitti said before heading to Brazil for this weekend's race. "Obviously, points wise I'm happy with the position we are in, but performance wise we can still improve."
Franchitti, seeking his fourth overall series title, won the season opener in St. Petersburg on March 27 and finished third in the next two races, in Alabama and in Long Beach. He leads the drivers' standings with 122 points, seven more than Australia's Will Power and 35 more than Tony Kanaan of Brazil.
"It's still not time to be looking at the championship scoreboard, it's too early," he said. "In a way, we are happy with our championship position, but we are still fighting."
Despite the good results early, Franchitti said the performance of his car in the first three races showed his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team has a lot of room for improvement.
"I had a strong race in St. Petersburg, but not so good at Barber (Motorsports Park in Alabama)," he said. "We didn't have the speed there but made some aggressive moves. In Long Beach the race performance was good, but not so good in qualifying, although there we made some good improvements in the road setup for the rest of the season."
Franchitti's teammate, Scott Dixon, was second in Alabama but struggled in the other two races, finishing out of the top 15.
The Sao Paulo 300 will cap a four-race stretch on road and street circuits before the series moves to four ovals, starting with the Indy 500 on May 29. The schedule then mixes oval and road races before finishing with three events on ovals. The last race on the 17-event schedule takes place in Las Vegas on Oct. 16.
Franchitti, the two-time defending champion, also won the drivers' championship in 2007. He is a two-time Indy 500 winner, taking the trophy in 2007 and last year.
Franchitti has been dominating the first part of this season along with Power. The Penske driver is a road-course specialist and has performed just as well as the Scot — maybe even better.
Power has started from the pole in every race this year, finishing second in the opener in St. Petersburg and winning the race in Alabama. He led the first part of the Long Beach race, but could only manage a 10th-place finish after being hit from behind by teammate Helio Castroneves in the final restart.
"Obviously, his performance has been good, too," Franchitti said. "He is a strong competitor and has a good team behind him. (In Sao Paulo) it will be a tough battle again between the Ganassi and the Penske guys."
Power has led a total of 125 laps in the first three races, while Franchitti led 94. The closest driver to them in laps led is Power's Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe, with 35. The only other drivers to have led laps so far are Dixon, Alex Tagliani of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport and his teammate, Mike Conway, the winner on the streets of Long Beach.
Franchitti started last year's Sao Paulo 300 from the pole but struggled to stay in the front in a wild race that had to be interrupted because of a severe thunderstorm nearly halfway through the event.
"We were fast in the race but had the wrong strategy with the rain, pitting in the wrong time," the 37-year-old Scot said.
Franchitti, a former NASCAR driver, likes the street circuit set up in Sao Paulo, which goes through a stadium-like Sambadrome and has the allure of the series' longest ever straightaway at just short of a mile.
He was not fond, however, of the bumps that caused problems for nearly all drivers in last year's race and is hoping the resurfacing that took place at the track improves the driving conditions.
Last year's Sao Paulo 300 opened the IndyCar season, and in addition to the rain and the bumpy track, the race also was marked by a slick concrete straightaway that had to be fixed overnight and forced qualifying to take place on race day for the first time ever in the series.
"It's a very interesting track," Franchitti said. "The bumps are part of the challenges of every street circuit, but here it was just too bumpy last year. I'm confident the resurfacing will fix it, so I'm looking forward to it."