Franchitti: “We do need a good result” at Long Beach

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Dario Franchitti is far from ready to throw in the towel on his 2013 campaign despite opening with back-to-back DNFs, but he realizes that Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (4 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network/NBC Sports Live Extra) is a critical race for him and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing team.

“We do need a good result — there’s no doubt,” Franchitti told sports talk titan Jim Rome on his radio show this morning. “There’s two very different reasons for those finishes — the first race at St. Petersburg [Fla.], the car just wasn’t very good and I crashed the thing just trying too hard to make something happen. And then at Barber, we got up to P6 very quickly in the race, so were looking good for a podium there, and then we had a mechanical failure.

“…We need to make some moves here pretty quickly if we want to get a good result in the [IZOD IndyCar Series] championship. But we’ll just take it the same way we have when we’re in the points leading — one race at a time. Myself and the whole Target team are focused to get back up the [standings] table.”

Franchitti also touched on his 250th start (on which he jokingly said that “it means [he’s] getting old”), the upcoming Indianapolis 500, and the differences between being a driver pushing 40 years old and being a driver at 30.

“I think it comes down to desire,” the 39-year-old Scotsman told Rome. “There’s obviously the physical aspect, especially with the injuries I’ve had — that definitely plays a part as well. I have to work a lot harder with my fitness trainers to stay in the same shape I was ten years ago. Injuries are one part, but then, the desire is very, very important. You can’t fake that. As long as that is there, I think you’re in good shape.

“Yeah, as time goes on, your reactions start to slow down a little bit, and your eyesight and all those things — the things that happen to any athlete. Those things have not happened yet, and the desire is as strong as ever, so as long as that desire is there and you’re willing to take those risks necessary, then I think I’m in good shape because as you get more experience, it definitely plays into your strength as well.”

Red Bull rising into the form expected when the season began

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Young “Mad Max” Verstappen had plenty to be angry about for the first half of the Formula One season. After his breakout season in 2016, this year had been little more than a rash of retirements, crashes and clashes with other drivers.

But a late burst over the last two races delivered his second career victory and a second-place. Those results have Red Bull rising and looking more like the fast and muscular team it was expected to be.

Verstappen and teammate Daniel Ricciardo now look primed to keep pushing for the front over the final four races of 2017, starting this week at the U.S. Grand Prix. Do that and the prospects for a 2018 title fight grow brighter.

“We’re definitely going the way we need to be going,” Ricciardo said. “If we start on the front foot, I genuinely believe we can fight for the title if we start closer. That’s what we’re aiming for.”

Verstappen’s win in Malaysia demonstrated a perfect marriage of the young Dutchman’s driving skill and his improving car when he beat Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with a head-to-head pass early. He was on the podium again a week later in Japan. The champagne spray at both races was a tasty but dry reminder that Red Bull wanted – and expected – so much more this season.

While Ricciardo has been a workhorse with nine podiums and one victory, Verstappen’s season was crippled by reliability issues with his car or crashes.

“There were so many races this year when he was in a fantastic position to achieve big results,” team principal Christian Horner said this week. “Credit to him that at such a young age he hasn’t let frustration boil over … when it comes right for him, it’s going to come right in a big way. And that’s exactly what happened in Malaysia. He drove a great race there, with no issues.”

Some of the “issues” created internal tension.

The first lap of the Hungarian Grand Prix was a disaster for Red Bull. Verstappen tried to overtake Ricciardo and hit him, knocking Ricciardo out of the race while Verstappen finished fifth. Ricciardo lashed out at Verstappen as “immature” and criticized the “amateur” maneuver.

Verstappen said he can’t think about what happened early in the season.

“That frustration I put behind me,” Verstappen said. “It happened. You can’t change it anymore. You’re just happy that it’s going well again and we had some good results.”

Ricciardo has carried Red Bull to the podium time and again but his broad smile hasn’t beamed from the top spot since Azerbaijan in June. Despite his run of strong finishes, he’s stuck at fourth in the driver’s standings and needs a boost to overtake Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas for third.

The Circuit of the Americas has been good for both Red Bull drivers in the past. Ricciardo finished third here in 2014 and 2016. Verstappen had an attention-getting drive in 2015 when he finished fourth in his Toro Rosso after sloshing his way through the field on a wet track.

Verstappen had a wild race in 2016 when he challenged for the lead early, came in for a pit stop when the crew wasn’t ready and yelled to his garage: “I’m not here to finish fourth!” He didn’t finish at all when his car was knocked out with a gearbox problem on lap 32.

Verstappen was 17 when he joined the F1 grid as the youngest driver in series history and he still jokes about his age. Austin is known for its live music and nightlife, but he’s limited as to how much he can party away from the track.

“I’m only 20. I can’t drink,” Verstappen said. “If I’m on the podium (Sunday) I won’t care.”