Dario Franchitti discusses retirement and his future (VIDEO)

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For the first time since his career-ending accident this past October at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti held a press conference today in Indianapolis to talk about his retirement and his future going forward in the sport.

Franchitti sustained multiple injuries, including a broken right ankle, spinal fractures and a concussion, in a last-lap crash during Race 2 of the weekend at Houston’s Reliant Park on Oct. 6. A little more than a month later, the Scotsman announced that he would have to end his illustrious career as a result.

When first forced to deal with the fact he’d never be able to race again without risking permanent damage to his health, Franchitti said that it took him two days to tell his team owner, Chip Ganassi.

During that period, he pondered over any possible way to keep racing but realized it was a futile endeavor.

“I spent two days thinking, ‘OK, how I can get around this here?,'” Franchitti said. “I’ve done it before. In 2003, I drove with a broken back in one race until Dr. [Terry] Trammell found out and got really upset with me.

“I’ve driven with quite a few broken body parts over the years. But I was like, ‘There’s got a be a way, there’s got to be some kind of negotiation’ and there wasn’t.”

Not knowing if his career would continue at the time, Franchitti then talked to good friend Tony Kanaan about the possibility of taking over his No. 10 car just in case.

“I said to Tony, ‘Tony, I don’t know how this is going to work out, man,'” he recalled. “…And that’s when I said to him, ‘If I don’t, for whatever reason, if I’m not able to drive anymore, I would love for you to drive the 10 car. That would be my dream.’

“Really, that day was the first time I thought that I might be in trouble here. That was pretty tough.”

Franchitti eventually got his wish as Kanaan, first signed to drive Ganassi’s No. 8 Chevrolet in October, has moved over to the No. 10 with Ryan Briscoe taking over the No. 8. The Ganassi camp appears to be stout going into 2014, and this morning, Franchitti re-iterated his desire to continue working with the team.

“That’s something we’re working on,” he said. “We’re working to make that happen so hopefully, it’ll all come along soon and I can start really getting involved in working with the team…It’s something I really want to do.”

For a driver that’s given so much to North American open-wheel racing, it would be a fitting epilogue for his story. Through the years, Franchitti has achieved some of the biggest accomplishments there are to achieve in the sport.

But in his mind, one of the defining moments of his career came long before his IndyCar success or putting his face on the Borg-Warner Trophy three times.

In 1991, a young Franchitti was on the verge of winning the Formula Vauxhall Junior series in Europe, and he knew how critical a championship would be for his career.

“It was the last race of the season and I pretty much had to win the championship,” Franchitti recalled. “And I did. And that got me to [Sir] Jackie Stewart’s attention, which started the ball rolling to get me here. Without that, there wouldn’t be no ‘here.”

Stewart, the Formula One legend, has been one of many that have reached out to Franchitti in recent weeks. Now, as he heads into retirement, Franchitti says he’ll be counting on his racing peers to guide him.

“One of the things for me, as a lover of the sport, was that a lot of my heroes reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, this retirement thing’s not that bad’,” he said. “I’m going to lean heavily on a lot of those guys to help me navigate my way through it.”

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.