For Dario Franchitti, simulator racing is real fun in Legends Trophy series

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Simulator racing has become an unexpected joy for Dario Franchitti and not just because he’s been highly competitive on a platform in which he wasn’t always comfortable.

Yes, Franchitti has excelled in the Legends Trophy sim league, winning the inaugural race in the series at Silverstone’s National Circuit layout.

But the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner relishes the trash talk, arguments and humorous asides that often erupt on the race lineup’s party line among the two dozen F1, IndyCar and sports car champions who are retired from real-world racing but not from its competitive spirit.

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“It’s just so much fun to do,” Franchitti told in a Thursday phone interview from his home near London this week. “The race is great, but honestly to watch that (driver) chat is every bit as fun. Before and after the races and taking the mickey out of each other is awesome.

“Because when you’ve got Emerson Fittipaldi on the group chat saying, ‘This doesn’t handle anything like the (McLaren) M23 I won the world championship with (in 1974).’ For me as a race fan – and I think all of us actually are race fans – it’s cool. Even Jenson Button, a fellow Formula One World Champion of Emerson’s, was just like, ‘That’s cool.’ ”

The fun will continue on Saturdays for the next five weeks as the Legends Trophy begins a second round, starting with the virtual Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.

The series will keep points standings this time (with a $25,000 charitable donation at stake for the champion) after a competitive nine-race first round that saw seven winners, including Franchitti, Button, Juan Pablo Montoya (who won at Lime Rock), Jan Magnussen (a winner at Sebring and Lime Rock), Rubens Barrichello, Emanuele Pirro and Petter Solberg.

When the green flag drops at noon ET today (broadcast on ESPN2 and The Race YouTube Channel), the field also will include Fittipaldi (who immensely has enjoyed his introduction to sim racing at 73), Adrian Fernandez, Bryan Herta, Gil de Ferran, Helio Castroneves, Max Papis and Oriol Servia.

In many ways, it’s like a re-creation of the rivalries from the Championship Auto Racing Teams era of 1995-2002.

“There definitely is some of that going on,” Franchitti said. “Except we’re supposed to be older and wiser.”

It didn’t seem that way after a recent race in which Tony Kanaan was just as upset with Papis as he might have been two decades ago.

“Max couldn’t even answer, he was laughing so hard,” Franchitti said. “There’s a bit of that going on.”

Former teammates and longtime friends Dario Franchitti (left) and Tony Kanaan at the 2015 Indianapolis 500 (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images).

Franchitti said he was recruited to the series by 2013 Indy 500 champion Kanaan, who will race Saturday in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It’s funny; we started this Legends thing four weeks ago just (with) a phone call,” Kanaan said. “Should we get the old-timers to go do some sim racing? We did.

You had Jacques Villeneuve on an Xbox. We’re all on a $10,000 sim, and he’s beating us with a little controller. That is the fun part. We take each other out all the time. We’re laughing. We have headsets and talk to each other. We take it serious, but it’s really not.”

Last week, Franchitti laughed off a late dustup with Montoya (which he described in this interview) during a fierce battle at Nurburgring. But the Legends Trophy also has its moments of gravity, as Franchitti discovered while taking a Brabham BT44 to a wire-to-wire win in the opener at Silverstone.

“I was getting really nervous,” Franchitti said. “Leading with three laps to go, and I’m thinking, ‘Crikey, I better not mess this up!’ ”

So it’s almost like real life for a three-time Brickyard champion and 31-time winner in IndyCar?

“Yeah!” Franchitti said. “And that shocks me. I must admit. That really shocked me how nervous you can actually get.”

It also is surprising how well he has taken to the format given an inauspicious introduction to sim racing. Toward the end of his IndyCar career, Franchitti tried a full-motion simulator in testing.

“It knocked my inner ear out so badly that I couldn’t test a real car at Milwaukee the following week,” he said. “I gave the sim a wide berth from that point of view for quite a while. But then I’d seen it grow in popularity, and I saw this lockdown was coming, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ ”

He and his brother, Marino, visited Darren Turner, a World Endurance Championship star for Aston Martin who also heads up the Base Performance Simulation company (and competes in the Legends Trophy series).

After trying out several sim rigs, Dario picked a favorite and plunged immediately down a virtual rabbit hole of nostalgia and speed.

Racing iconic cars in exotic locations became a passion for Franchitti, whose love of racing history is well documented. He deftly guided a Ferrari from 1990s F1 around Oulton Park, a very narrow road course near Manchester. He wheeled the famous 1,500-horsepower Porsche 917 Can Am at the old Nurburgring Circuit, popping a massive wheelie over the jumps just for fun.

“I was just doing crazy stuff that you never could get away with” in real life, Franchitti said. “That’s been the fun part. And seeing friends of mine who raced at the same time or before me all getting sims and saying, ‘OK, what races are we doing now?’

“You can get the craziest cars on the craziest circuits. It’s never going to replicate or take over from the real thing, but it’s a good distraction, and it’s close enough to the real thing to give you a bit of a thrill.”

And it’s helped as the four-time IndyCar champion waits out the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the U.K., where the same social distancing and stay-at-home measures are being applied as in the States.

Dario Franchitti and his wife, Eleanor, walk the pits on 2017 Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“I haven’t been out in I don’t know how long,” said Franchitti, who has two young children with his wife, Eleanor. “I’m lucky I’ve got quite a bit of space and a bit of land, so I don’t feel too hemmed in, and the kids can go out and play, and I can run.”

In between watching snippets of the news and attending to a honey-do list of house repairs, Franchitti also is able to work from home in his job as a Formula E commentator.

Saturday, he will be commentating a Formula E sim race (with a full field of pro drivers) from a small home office studio. When finished, he’ll walk 20 paces down the hall to his sim rig. He’ll jump in for a couple of practice laps, qualify and then race the Legends Trophy.

“I’m glad my wife’s very understanding,” Franchitti said with a laugh. “I think she probably thought my schedule would slow down a bit now that I’m not traveling to all the normal IndyCar races or the FE races.”

He has the full support of family. Eldest daughter Sofia, 4, watches her dad’s Legends Trophy races “and then comes through afterward to give me a critique on what I did, right or wrong,” Franchitti said. “I really enjoy that part of it. Having her as part of it has been cool.”

There’s been plenty of time for family since Franchitti made a mad dash back across the pond from St. Petersburg, Florida, where he was in the paddock when the IndyCar season opener was postponed March 13.

As a Chip Ganassi Racing driver coach and consultant (“The job entails whatever Chip wants. It’s really whatever I can do, whether it’s what I think or what other members of the team think, to make us more competitive.”), Franchitti has stayed in regular contact with team executives Mike Hull and Doug Duchardt.

Dario Franchitti has broadcasted Formula E races with (left to right) Jack Nicholls, Nicki Shields and  Vernon Kay (Dave Benett/Getty Images Formula E).

Whenever the IndyCar season restarts (the plan is June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway), he is prepared to make the sharp turn to be at the track again (and for the Formula E races he is announcing as well).

“That’s the hope,” Franchitti said. “We’ll see what happens. I’ll do everything I can to get back there. It’ll really depend on what travel restrictions in different countries come into play. Fingers crossed I can do my usual crazy travel schedule of IndyCar and Formula E.”

In the meantime, he’ll have a blast traveling with his longtime buddies – virtually — to race at the world’s greatest circuits.

“None of us are really taking it too seriously, which is great,” Franchitti said. “We all practice a lot and get frustrated with it, but when the actual racing happens, we’re just having a good time with it.

“I hope the people who are watching it are having as much fun as we are.”

Sebastien Bourdais laughs with Dario Franchitti on the grid before the April 28, 2017 race at Phoenix Raceway (Christian Petersen/Getty Images).

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Cooper Webb


For the fifth time in 10 rounds of the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season, the three riders at the top of the championship standings shared a podium and while those points tell one story, the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit tell a slightly different tale.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Detroit
Cooper Webb is peaking at the right time. – Feld Motor Sports

Chase Sexton has been all but perfect during the past 45 days with podium finishes in each of his heats and Triple Crown features. His only stumble during this period was a 10th-place finish in the Indianapolis Main. Last week, Sexton was perfect with wins in both his heat and the feature, although he needed a little help from an Aaron Plessinger mistake to take the top spot on the podium at the end of the night.

Cooper Webb finished fifth at Houston and was beginning to worry ever so slightly about his position in the points. Prior to the race in Tampa, he told NBC Sports that it was time to win and like Babe Ruth pointing to the outfield fence, Webb went out and captured it. Following that race, Webb has swept the podium and earned the red plate two weeks ago in Indianapolis. At Detroit, he added two more points on Eli Tomac as the season begins to wind down.

Tomac struggled with a stiff neck at Indianapolis and after a modest third-place showing in Detroit, he revealed he was still suffering a little. Webb and Sexton have been able to close the gap on Tomac in the past 45 days, but one of the main reasons he is so close in the points was a pair of wins that started the year. Seattle is going to be important for the defending champion because Tomac cannot afford to lose any more momentum with seven rounds remaining.

MORE: Chase Sexton inherits the win in Detroit

It appeared Jason Anderson was turning things around. He earned his fifth heat win at Detroit, which was also his sixth consecutive race (including features) in which he scored a top-five. A fall in the Detroit Main dropped him a lap off the pace and sent him home with a season-worst finish of ninth, causing a ripple effect in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Justin Barcia was a huge part of the show last week in Detroit. He swapped positions with both Webb and Tomac in the middle stage of the race, which allowed Sexton to close the gap. Barcia finished fourth in that race to earn his third consecutive top-five. He’s been outside the top 10 only once in the first 10 rounds.

Adam Cianciarulo had a great start to the Main. He led a couple of laps before losing a lap and slipping back to eighth in the final rundown. That run was strong enough to elevate him three positions in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit.

450 Rankings

Driver Percentage
1. Chase Sexton
[2 Main, 6 Heat wins]
87.00 1 0
2. Cooper Webb
[2 Main, 1 Heat win]
86.71 2 0
3. Eli Tomac
[5 Main, 6 Heat wins]
84.57 3 0
4. Jason Anderson
[5 Heat wins]
80.71 4 0
5. Ken Roczen
[1 Main, 1 Heat win]
80.50 5 0
6. Justin Barcia
[1 Heat win]
79.07 7 1
7. Aaron Plessinger 77.14 6 -1
8. Adam Cianciarulo 69.75 11 3
9. Christian Craig 68.86 10 1
10. Justin Cooper 63.90 9 -1
11. Justin Hill 58.57 15 4
12. Dean Wilson 51.50 12 0
13. Colt Nichols 51.25 13 0
14. Shane McElrath 46.86 17 3
15. Josh Hill 46.79 16 1
16. Benny Bloss 45.31 18 2
17. Jared Lesher 39.00 NA
18. Joey Savatgy 38.63 14 -4
19. Cade Clason 37.50 21 2
20. Grant Harlan 35.54 23 3

Supercross 450 Points

The NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings look at the past 90 days in the 250 class in order to have a balanced comparison between the East and West divisions and Hunter Lawrence has been all but perfect this year. At Detroit, he earned his fifth win of the season and kept alive a streak of podium finishes in six rounds. He tied his brother Jett Lawrence with 10 250 wins one week before the West riders take to the track for back-to-back races at Seattle, Washington and Glendale, Arizona.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Detroit
Nate Thrasher is settling into a comfortable role as ‘best in class’. – Feld Motor Sports

The Lawrence brothers are dominating the points in each of their respective divisions, which means the remainder of the field is battling to be best in class.

In the East, that rider is Nate Thrasher, who beat Hunter in a head-to-head matchup in their heat only to finish second in the main when the majority of points were awarded. Thrasher seems to have accepted his position in the championship standings, but that doesn’t mean he won’t keep trying for wins.

Haiden Deegan showed a lot of aggression in his heat last week. He threw a couple of block passes at his teammate Jordon Smith and set up a series of events that kept Smith from making the big show while Deegan settled into second in the preliminary. Deegan was unconcerned about how he raced his teammate and would not let a little controversy keep him from celebrating his second career podium in Detroit.

Supercross 250 Points

Jeremy Martin just keeps clicking off solid results. He won his heat last week by making a pass on Deegan and Smith while they were in the heat of their battle. Martin finished fourth in the Main, which means he continues to have only one finish worse than sixth in any of the features or mains.

Smith fell one position in the points standings, but the damage was even worse in SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Detroit. Crash damage in his heat contributed to a last-place finish in that race, for which he earned minimal points. He was not able to advance from the Last Chance Qualifier after stalling his bike in heavy traffic.

250 Rankings

Rider Power
1. Hunter Lawrence – E
[5 Main, 5 Heat wins]
90.43 1 0
2. Jett Lawrence – W
[3 Main, 3 Heat wins]
90.30 2 0
3. Nate Thrasher – E
[1 Main, 3 Heat wins]
84.00 5 2
4. Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat win]
79.80 9 5
5. Haiden Deegan – E
[1 Heat win]
78.21 7 2
6. Jeremy Martin – E
[2 Heat wins]
78.00 8 2
7. Jordon Smith – E
[3 Heat Wins]
76.77 4 -3
8. Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main]
75.30 3 -5
9. Mitchell Oldenburg – W 75.20 11 2
10. RJ Hampshire – W
[4 Heat wins]
74.50 17 7
11. Max Anstie – E 74.43 6 -5
12. Tom Vialle – E 72.07 12 0
13. Max Vohland – W 71.56 10 -3
14. Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat win]
69.22 14 0
15. Chris Blose – E 67.43 18 3
16. Chance Hymas – E 67.10 15 -1
17. Enzo Lopes – W 66.00 20 3
18. Michael Mosiman – E 65.80 16 -2
19. Pierce Brown – W 65.78 13 -6
20. Phil Nicoletti – W 59.25 21 1

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days for the 450 class and last 90 days for 250s (because of the split nature of their season).

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage