Dario Franchitti doesn’t remember much from the night when he won his first IndyCar race. The Scot’s breakthrough drive at Road America in 1998 (photo above), delivered behind the wheel of a Team Kool Green Reynard-Honda, was followed by his dear friend, the late Greg Moore, leading a party to Siebkens, the famous local bar and inn, where a raging night of celebration would take place. It’s here where the rest of the story starts to get blurry for Chip Ganassi Racing’s advisor, driver coach, and mentor.
Last Sunday at Elkhart Lake, the post-race trip to Siebkens was the only thing missing after Franchitti’s young Swedish charge, Felix Rosenqvist, captured his first IndyCar win. With Dario forced to coach remotely from London, the celebratory tradition will have to wait for a future visit to Road America.
For Franchitti, who earned that maiden win in his second season, on his 30th start, there was definite pride in seeing Rosenqvist slightly improve on that number after getting to victory lane in his second season, and 21st start.
“It’s such a special track, isn’t it? And obviously for me having won my first there, it was nice to see that to see that Felix was able to get that first win at Road America — and 22 years later, so half a lifetime after my first win as well,” Franchitti told RACER. “There are a lot of parallels, and he did himself proud. We’ll have to figure out the party after the season, because he’s earned it.”
Franchitti also applauded his student’s maturity and bravado, both of which were on display while tracking down and passing Pato O’Ward, who dominated Sunday’s 55-lap race while Rosenqvist charged forward to set up an epic showdown with two laps to go.
“He was fast in his rookie season; had a couple of misfires along the way earlier this season; then he rebounded from them, and it was great to see the way he did it on Sunday,” he said. “It was not an easy win. He and Pato were wheel banging from Turns 5 to 6, and the crossover before that was just phenomenal. Then the bravery to do that move round the outside at Turn 7 – that pass only works if you both know what’s going on. He didn’t crowd Pato and Pato didn’t drive up into him.
“Felix was very smart, too,” Franchitti continued. “He gave him a car width-plus, just to make sure. Before that, the boys had one stop that wasn’t so good. The guys were beating themselves up over that, but his pace was such that they managed to recover and more than make up for it.”
The last time Ganassi’s No. 10 entry was a constant threat for victory, Franchitti was driving the car. Following his retirement after the 2013 season, Tony Kanaan was the next – and last – driver to win with the No. 10 at Fontana back in 2014. In ending the long drought, Rosenqvist further endeared himself to veteran CGR chief mechanic Ricky Davis, who was moved to tears; team manager Barry Wanser, who handles race strategy; race engineers Chris Simmons and Julian Robertson; and the rest of the NTT Data-sponsored effort.
“You could see what it meant to the guys – you could hear it on the intercom right after they (took) the checkered flag; and you could see Ricky just sitting there with his head in his hands,” Franchitti said.
“For Chris, it was cool. Barry and him called a great race. And Julian was on the intercom as well, and I was on the intercom from here in London. Just a full team effort again.
“What’s the saying, ‘A rising tide lifts all boats?’ This win is definitely going to help the team.”
Team leader Scott Dixon took the first three wins of the season in the No. 9 Honda; Rosenqvist maintained the unbeaten streak by winning the fourth event; and as newcomer Marcus Ericsson continues to shine in the No. 8 Honda, the program is achieving the lofty goals established by its leadership group.
It had been 86 races since a Ganassi driver other than Dixon won for the team, and, as Rosenqvist’s confidence soars, Franchitti expects the 28-year-old to keep CGR in the hunt for more.
“There’s certainly a lot of belief in Felix by the team, and I think he showed it with his pace last year. His work over the winter was quite impressive,” he said. “Even a half an hour before the start of the Sunday race, we were chatting back and forwards about handling imbalances and the best way to get rid of them. He’s like a sponge.
“But that’s all for nothing if you can’t do the lap times and do the job when it counts. He’s proved that he could, time and time again, in other formulas; and he proved it again in IndyCar.
“When the pressure’s on, he can get the job done.”