MST: First reactions to Franchitti’s legacy and retirement

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Some quick thoughts are below from my MotorSportsTalk colleague Chris Estrada and I this morning – written late yesterday – on Dario Franchitti’s forced retirement:

Tony DiZinno:

I guess immediacy is the nature of the game these days, so rather than give the Dario Franchitti retirement news a little time to stew (and my suggestion to not speculate on a replacement met mixed reactions on Twitter), I’ll just offer some raw, unpolished thoughts.

The first thing is that I was very concerned when his accident happened at Houston. I couldn’t really lose myself in the moment there, but having been in the pit lane on Dan Wheldon’s headset when his accident at Las Vegas happened in 2011, I felt a gut punch.

Not Dario. Not after Dan and Greg. Not the guy who is, realistically, IndyCar’s biggest name and one of racing’s foremost historians and ambassadors. Not the guy who has made so much time available for a young scribe over my own career.

So, naturally, rather than speculating on how his condition was, it was a case of waiting while news trickled and though Dario was awake and alert, I certainly knew he was injured and going to be out for a while.

And this is where his years of experience and mind counter my relatively youthful – if just as experienced in terms of fandom – mindset.

Judging by today’s statement, Franchitti was injured worse than we all realized at the time. Certainly more than I thought.

So I didn’t think his injuries would be bad enough to prevent a shot at a fourth Indianapolis 500. At a chance to race the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for now. At a chance to get back to winning in IndyCar – which generates a buzz either way, whether you love or hate him.

As a reporter, and as a fan, I selfishly wanted those things.

But, in a safety-conscious era, and with Franchitti one of the smartest drivers in the paddock, it’s the only responsible decision he could make.

You never want to see a superstar athlete’s career end due to injury, but you’ll take them going out before they take another body blow 100 times out of 100.

Franchitti gets that. And better still, he gets racing.

You may have seen the last of him in a car, but certainly not the last of him at a race track.

For now, I thank Dario for everything he’s given to IndyCar racing over the last 17 years. And I can’t wait to see what next trick he has up his sleeve for his post-driving career.

Chris Estrada:

My little brother is set to turn three years old in January. Naturally, he’s into cars, of both the Matchbox and the Disney/Pixar variety.

He’s even sat down to watch a few races with me this year…For about five or 10 laps, anyway. Then he usually walks back to the living room to launch those Matchbox cars off a Hot Wheels ramp while Henry Hugglemonster plays on the TV.

Obviously, I’ll have to wait for a bit longer before I can really give my little brother a proper introduction to racing and tell him about all the great drivers I’ve had the privilege to watch in my relatively young life.

But it’ll be worth the wait. And when that time comes, I look forward to telling him about Dario Franchitti.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti used his calm, cool style behind the wheel to etch his name into the record books multiple times as a four-time IndyCar Series champion and a three-time champion of the world’s biggest race, the Indianapolis 500.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti let his hard work and talent speak for itself, remaining a down-to-earth gentleman even as his success brought him fame that stretched beyond the racing world.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti had to persevere time and again, from battling through a variety of tough injuries during his career to having to say goodbye far too soon to fellow competitors and close friends.

I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti didn’t give up in his final Indy 500 win in 2012, when he fell to 29th place after getting spun on pit road during the first caution and charged all the way back to drink the milk and kiss the bricks yet again.

And I look forward to telling him about how Franchitti was intelligent enough to realize when the time had come to hang up his helmet and move on to enjoy the next part of his life.

Going back to the present, it’s a bittersweet moment. We’ll no longer get to see the legend at work, but he sure created a lot of thrilling memories for fans to hang on to.

The truly great sportsmen earn the honor of having their stories passed down from one generation of fans to the next. For his success both as a driver and as an ambassador for racing, Dario Franchitti has earned that honor.

And as my little brother grows up, I look forward to telling him some “Dario stories.”

Thank you, Dario. It’s been an amazing ride.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Sebastien Bourdais

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A dream start occurred for Sebastien Bourdais and the Dale Coyne Racing team upon their reunion, followed by a nightmare in Indianapolis with a huge crash in qualifying, and ended with a rapid recovery to build confidence for 2018.

Sebastien Bourdais, No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda

  • 2016: 14th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 24 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 11.2 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 21st Place (8 Starts), 1 Win, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 74 Laps Led, 12.4 Avg. Start, 11.0 Avg. Finish

The 2017 campaign for Sebastien Bourdais upon his return to Dale Coyne Racing will forever be known as both a year of “what could have been” and a year of “what a comeback it was.”

The abnormal season for Bourdais stretched eight races with a three-month break in the middle owing to his own mistake qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which left him with multiple pelvic fractures and a fracture to his right hip. His car was a rocket ship; but after two laps at 231 mph, Bourdais appeared to over-correct and destroyed the wall at Turn 2 in Indy in a massive 127G impact. It was a horrific looking accident, but one that also saw Bourdais rather lucky to have not been injured worse.

It set forth in motion an incredible recovery that saw Bourdais back testing the Monday after Mid-Ohio, just over two months since the accident, then in race action just over three months later at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval, and because Bourdais is a regulation badass, he finished in the top-10 straight out of the box. He worked as hard as he did to return earlier than anticipated to avoid an offseason of questions asking if he’d come back and if he’d be strong enough to do so.

The recovery was a welcome story to end the year after the agony at Indy that stopped a potential title run or certainly top-five in points finish in its tracks. A classic Coyne strategy special vaulted Bourdais from last to first and a popular win in his U.S. hometown of St. Petersburg to kick off the year. A second place at Long Beach backed it up and eighth at Barber kept him atop the standings.

But Indy was shaping up to be an important bounce back weekend after Bourdais got taken out in Phoenix, then incurred an engine failure in the IMS road course race. And then, of course, his loud and violent accident qualifying for the ‘500 changed the course of the season.

After three “almost there” but largely unfulfilling years at KV Racing Technology, Bourdais embraced the family atmosphere back at Coyne along with longtime engineers Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson, determined to continue punching above the team’s weight. He crafted a remarkable story all season and will be keen to fulfill it over the course of a proper full campaign in 2018.