Franchitti: Concussion from Homestead crash ‘completely changed’ personality

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Four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti has revealed that a concussion sustained during a testing crash at Homestead in 2000 “completely changed” his personality.

During a CART test for Team KOOL Green at Homestead in February 2000, Franchitti suffered a high-speed crash at Turn 3 that left him with a fractured hip and pelvis as well as concussion.

In an interview with BBC Scotland, Franchitti spoke openly about his concussion, revealing that it was not until many years later that he discussed the impact of the crash.

“The first big one in 2000, my personality, I felt completely changed afterwards, which I brought up to my brother years later,” Franchitti said.

“I never actually said [anything] to anybody. I said to my brother: ‘Marino, I think this happened.’ He said: ‘I never noticed,’ but from the inside it felt different.

“I just think I was a lot more serious. Not as easygoing. I was more easygoing beforehand and I became more serious.

“I was lucky in that I had a goal and my goal was to get back in a car as soon as possible – to the point I got back in the car way, way too early.

“I think it took two years to be right and I was back driving after five weeks.”

Performances may have proven that out. After winning three races each of 1998 and 1999 and finishing third and second in points, Franchitti won only once in the next two years and ended 13th and seventh in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He resumed winning multiple races in 2002.

Franchitti said that the situation was completely different after his career-ending crash at Houston in 2013, after which he had no desire to get back racing.

“After the last one, it was kind of the exact opposite.

“Having that last [crash], I finished and I was so thankful for what I got to do – the fact I survived that crash and the fact what I’d got to do in my life that I was looking at it from that way.

“It was never ‘I don’t get to drive a car anymore’, it was ‘what will the rest of my life bring?’

“We didn’t know any better, but you can do permanent damage. The one thing that I found scary, fascinating but scary is that damage is cumulative.

“You have one concussion, it takes X amount of energy to cause damage. The next concussion it takes less energy. The next one again, and the symptoms can be worse. And it’s not an exact science.”

Franchitti spoke about his life after racing, discussing his roles with Chip Ganassi Racing and Formula E, as well as revealing for the first time in a public interview that he has re-married following his split with Ashley Judd in 2013 and has a baby.

“I’ve spent a lot of time back home since the end of 2013,” Franchitti said.

“In fact, when I went to Miami and had my diagnosis about how bad things were, the next thing my Mum was with me, we jumped on a plane up to Newark and a plane back to Edinburgh, and that was me home. I wanted to go home.

“I’ve been home-sick for 15 years! I had the most wonderful life living in America, but I was homesick. The fact I get to spend more time here is great for me.

“My wife [Eleanor] and I got re-married. We spend time [in Scotland], we spend time in London. Bit of a balance of both.

“[I’m] working for the Ganassi team still that I raced my last six years with, advise them on all parts of the performance of the team really which is really good fun.

“Working in Formula E, do the commentary for the world feed. Goodwood TV so I get to make shows about classic cars which is right up my street. And then little things like the new Honda NSX which is coming out, I did all the development on that.

“And then somewhere in-between that, getting to spend time with my wife and baby.”

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
McLaren Racing

As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Formula E team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”


James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship car from Mercedes-EQ. – McLaren Racing

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – McLaren Racing

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”