Newly retired four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti sat down with RACER’s Marshall Pruett for an in-depth look at his career, favorite cars, tracks, memorable teammates, closest friends in the paddock and other topics that emerged during a long stroll down memory lane.Enjoy their multi-part interview over the holidays, continuing with some of Franchitti’s favorite racetracks (and the one he was unable to figure out).
MARSHALL PRUETT: You’ve had the odd fortune to race on almost every paved American oval and road course that comes to mind across your years in CART, IRL, NASCAR, ALMS and the IndyCar Series. We could do an entire book on your affinity for Indianapolis, but are there other tracks that stand atop your list of personal favorites?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Iowa, believe it or not! I loved racing in Iowa up until this year, when I just sucked. I think I led the first four times we were there. But overall, Iowa, I enjoyed.
Indy is the big one, obviously, and a topic all on its own as you said. Indy, I love the track. I love the track, I love the difficulty, I love what it represents. Milwaukee is unbelievable. You go somewhere like Milwaukee, you look at the two corners, the two ends, and it appears at first sight, to be terribly uncomplicated almost a mirror on both ends.And then you look at the data and it would show [Scott Dixon] and I were basically driving different tracks. We would joke because if you could tie my Turn 1 and 2 to his 3 and 4, nobody could touch us.
That’s a tough old place to master, so I loved that. It was technical, it took balls and you never really felt like you’d mastered Milwaukee. Maybe for a lap or two in qualifying, or, more like one lap in qualifying, honestly, and that’s a perfect scenario for me. Never boring, never easy.
MP: How about road courses? I’d love to say your record reflects a certain aptitude for one type of track, but you didn’t seem to be bothered by natural terrain, street courses, flat, hilly, etc. Which ones come to mind?
DF: Obviously, Road America. When the CART cars were at their peak, Road America was a wicked place to lap. Completely mental. I always got on well with Mid-Ohio. That was a place, especially with the new Dallara, that wore you down because of all the constant forces you had to overcome inside the car. Even a two-hour IndyCar race felt like an endurance race when you tried to drag yourself out of the car afterward just gutted and exhausted. Toronto. I loved Toronto.
MP: Toronto? That’s awesome never would have expected that.
DF: I was always fast there. What Toronto was for me was that challenge of working over those concrete patches. Toronto was a compromise. Every corner’s a little bit different. It’s so bumpy and you’ve got those concrete patches you’ve got to figure out. I loved that challenge.I liked the Brazil street track. Never won there, but I really liked it it had a great flow to it. I especially liked Surfers Paradise. That’s a proper street course. The fact that the V8 Supercars are still pounding around there is great, but Jesus, in CART, it was terrifying. Those fast chicanes on the backside running along the beacha brilliant, brilliant track.
I’ve enjoyed Long Beach. Very difficult track. Very hit or miss at Long Beach. One year you can get on the pole, the next year you could be P20. So fickle. I liked Vancouver.
MP: Vancouver! I loved that place. I was there in the early days where it ran around the BC Lions dome, and again for one of the last ones where the layout had changed for the second or third time. Which version did you enjoy?
DF: The final iteration we got to race on in Vancouver. I loved that. The ’98,’99 tracks were a little bit different than the 2002 layout. Each one was a slight evolution but I loved those tracks. Loved racing in Vancouver and the people there were so friendly. You really can’t underestimate what it’s like going to these cities for a street race, having the people right there, getting to interact with everyone, and also having a great circuit to go out and race on. The memories you come away with can be pretty special.
Cleveland was physically unbelievably hard. Also very difficult to pinpoint the apex or where the corners were. I loved it. So different. The Rio oval, I had some cracking races there. Montoya and I in ’99 went mad and put on a good show had really good races there. That was a good track that went away far too soon.
I enjoyed Detroit. Both the long track and the short track, and that was another one where it was physical and mental. Track surface changes every few feet, it felt like, and fast very fast in certain places, and it could bite you if you weren’t careful. Had to respect the walls there. Getting to race this year at Pocono was rather special a proper track. Really a ballsy, ballsy track that was so fast.
Sonoma, to me, it’s not a classic like a Road America-type thing, but it’s such a challenge. The dust and dirt level on the racing surface varies so much session to session, lap to lap, you never know what kind of grip is there, which made for a lot of excitement…. The undulations make it very difficult. And the wind direction can completely change the track. I liked Sonoma. The tracks that were like big puzzles to solve really appealed to me, you could say. The more you had to think and adapt and push yourself, I think the better it was for me.
MP: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the one puzzle you never really solved it became your personal cartoon anvil, frankly
DF: Oh yeah, I helped George Barber with his safety stuff by crashing there in every cornerBarber was one track I never figured out. I’ve had some good times there but also some massive accidents. In testing, in the dry, in the rainI got to meet a lot of corner workers that way at Barber. Don’t know what it was, but me and that track, we never added up. Lovely facility, lovely museum, but that track had me turned around more often than not.