DIXON AND FRANCHITTI TALK FONTANA FINISH
Dixon, Franchitti expecting wide open Fontana finish
August 17, 2012
Much has changed in the respective professional lives of Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon as the IZOD IndyCar Series heads into its final three races of the year. In particular, the two Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates are likely to be at different stages for this year's season finale, the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
In a role reversal, it's Dixon who's back as the lead title contender, really for the first time since Franchitti returned to IndyCar after his one-year NASCAR Sprint Cup sojourn in 2008. Franchitti's all but out of championship contention while Dixon almost seems bemused at given the low points of his season, he still has a chance.
“I've said it before, but it's like the championship no one wants to win,” Dixon noted Thursday at ACS, where he and Franchitti were on hand for promotional activity and a fan Q&A. “It's been a crazy one, I think. Besides on track, you have had the different penalties, the new additions in race control, etc. It's been exciting and disappointing at different aspects of the year. To look back at the finishes, it's almost mind boggling we're still in the race for the championship.”
Franchitti, who is still keen on adding another win to his solitary one at this year's Indianapolis 500, will now morph into the main role of Dixon's wingman as the Kiwi seeks his third series title.
“I'd echo that; it's been a very odd season,” he admitted. “Some of that has been the new car, engine formula, getting used to that. My season – apart from one day in May that went really well, and even that it had its interesting points, getting spun in pit lane – has been really tough. The performance has been there, but we haven't put results together. The 9 side has had the same issue on occasion.
“We have to work with Scott to put together a championship. He's been very grateful and good enough to me the last two seasons to help me in those races and I'm in a position where – even though it's one I don't want to be in – that I'd love to help him in any way I can.”
Fontana, back on the IndyCar schedule for the first time since 2005 (a race Franchitti won), is set to have its own separate aero package. It will be much closer to the Indianapolis specifications, but set aside for the nature of the 2.0-mile oval.
Much has changed on the handling of the cars since Dixon's test at the track last November. The two estimated the race, however, would play out more like Texas (RIGHT) – where there was a separate aero package but with downforce reductions prior to the race itself. It spread the field out but still allowed the drivers to drive, rather than just hold on in a pack as in prior oval season-enders in years past (Chicagoland, Las Vegas).
“I'd say probably it will be more like Texas, as there's more of a natural flow here,” Franchitti said. “But I'm hoping I have a better car here – my car at Texas was evil!
"That race was a great example of the drivers, teams and the series working together to come up with a formula to put on a good race and get rid of a pack. It turned out as a great race, but it was a big shock as how it worked.”
“At Texas, the race was good, and people were coming and going,” Dixon agreed. “There was lots of overtaking. But you're limited there with just the two lines, with big bumps in (turns) 1 and 2. When I was here testing, you had a real good feel for at least three lines. The race is gonna be crazy.”
The biggest change in the track, Franchitti estimated, is that the asphalt has lost a bit of grip over time. Possible speeds are a question mark, and while Dixon and Franchitti had their guesses, it's unlikely to get a proper gauge on lap times until testing with the race-specific aero package is done there.
As a point of reference, Indianapolis' pole speed was more than 226mph with the extra turbo boost. Texas had a faster pole speed this year than last year – Alex Tagliani again on point but at a 215.691 compared to a 215.186 with the separate aero package. Speeds, obviously, won't be anywhere near the outright record of 241.428 set by Gil de Ferran at the track in 2000, but that was in an era with far more horsepower.
“When we tested it was only like 210, but we've seen the speeds go up substantially from when we started,” Dixon said. “I'd guess somewhere in 215 to 220, maybe 217? I haven't looked at the formula or format for the wings yet, and I think it's still fairly open. Some one- or two-lap averages could be pretty high.”
“Yeah, for Indy, it was maybe 212.8 the first time,” Franchitti said. “That was not long before you tested. But qualifying was pushing 227. It's probably going to be a faster practice speed than qualifying speed if you caught a tow. Honestly, so long as we're quicker than the other guys, I don't care how quick it is.”
Dixon's had a whirlwind few weeks, having only just returned to the U.S. from London where he attended the Olympics with wife Emma and others. The Dixons took in track and field events primarily, before Scott did his own several-thousand meter relay back overnight from London Heathrow to LAX, then along with his teammate participated in a long day's worth of media activity. As the kicker, he was set to go on another red-eye overnight Thursday to get to Sonoma for testing at that track on Friday.
The day was completed, however, by yet another Ganassi food premiere. After Franchitti and Dixon were announced as featured on special Kellogg's cereal boxes at Mid-Ohio, the two will have “Franchitti Baked Ziti” and “Scott's Hot Tater Tots” on the menu at the Drivers Cuisine Cantina concession stand for the Fontana race.
Not to be outdone, fellow Honda drivers Takuma Sato and Charlie Kimball will also have culinary dogs in the fight, with “Takuma Sato's Pork Chop Sandwich” and “Charlie Kimball's California Chicken Sandwich” also available for purchase at that concession stand.