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.

Plans for Alonso sports car debut in Rolex 24 gathering speed

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Plans for McLaren Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to appear in next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona are gathering speed as the two-time World Champion angles for a drive at Le Mans in 2018.

Alonso announced on Thursday he had signed a new, multi-year deal to remain with McLaren in F1, but has left the door open to continue his pursuit of the Triple Crown of Motorsport and become just the second driver in history to complete it.

Alonso has won the Monaco Grand Prix twice and made his Indianapolis 500 debut this year, retiring with an engine issue, and has made no secret of his ambition to race at Le Mans one day.

With no date clashes, the possibility exists for Alonso to race at Le Mans in 2018, potentially with Toyota in the LMP1 class following McLaren’s split with Honda.

However, Alonso could make his 24-hour race debut five months earlier, with reports emerging on Thursday that he could be in line to appear in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

First reported by Sportscar365, Alonso could be set to race for McLaren executive director Zak Brown’s team, United Autosports, at Daytona in January, with no clashes existing with his F1 commitments.

Alonso remained coy when asked about the chances of him appearing at Daytona, but admitted additional preparation for a possible Le Mans appearance would be of interest.

“For the Indy 500 it was a nice experience, I felt very competitive but it was a big challenge that I took from zero, from no testing, not any similar race before it,” Alonso said, as quoted by Reuters.

“If I want to prepare Le Mans, maybe there are other possibilities to prepare Le Mans a little bit better than I prepared the Indy 500.”

He added more about his other race program in Thursday’s pre-race Paddock Pass episode, speaking to NBCSN. “To be the best driver in the world you have to win in different series at different times. It’s possible I can compete in different races next year,” he said.

Brown said he would be happy to field Alonso at Daytona, and confirmed their pair had already loosely discussed it.

“If Fernando wants to do Daytona and we have a seat available, we would put his name on it happily,” Brown said.

“We’ve started joking around about it, and we saw where jokes got us last time,” he added, referencing the eventual entry to the Indy 500.

United Autosports will field two JS P217 cars at Daytona in January, and has already confirmed ex-F1 racer Paul di Resta, McLaren junior Lando Norris, American endurance racer Will Owen and Danish youngster Philip Hanson in seats.

McLaren reserve and 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button had been linked with a drive for United Autosports at Daytona, but Brown confirmed to Sportscar365 this was no longer an option.

“Jenson won’t be driving for us. I don’t know what he’s going to be doing,” Brown said.

“I thought he was going to be in the Penske car. Not sure what happened there.”