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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Dario Franchitti
April 7, 1998


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thank you all for joining us today, and a special welcome to our guest this afternoon, driver Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green. Good afternoon, Dario. Welcome, and thanks for joining us today. Dario, driver of the number 27 KOOL Reynard Honda is in its second season in the FedEx Championship Series and its first as a driver for Team KOOL Green. He earned a career best runner-up finish in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix at Long Beach, the latest in a string of successful performances to start the 1998 FedEx Championship Series season. Following a ninth place finish in the season opener at Homestead and an eighth place effort in Japan, he stands a career high fourth in the PPG Cup standings with 25 points. The FedEx Championship Series has next to Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pennsylvania for the April 26th Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota. Dario started 18th and finished 13th in his first start at Nazareth in 1997. The Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota, round four of the 1998 FedEx Championship Series will be televised live by ESPN on Sunday, April 26th, beginning at 12:30 p.m. eastern time. With that, we will open the floor for questions.

Q. All I can say is congratulations, Dario. I am glad to see you are doing well with your new team. You didn't get much of a chance to spend much time here in St. Louis, so I got to meet you only over at the luncheon that day that Carl through. It looks like you are doing quite well.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yes, thanks.

Q. I just wondered if you could talk about your rise here this year and what prompted that?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think really it's a bit more experience with what's going on. I better give full credit to my team, Team KOOL Green. Since I started there, I have been testing since November. I am a lot more comfortable in the car. Obviously, more seat time makes you more comfortable. During the race weekends, everything is very, very structured, and that is helping me in my position as well, because it just means there is no unknown there. The biggest unknown is always what's going to happen in the race, but everything else is structured, so it leads you to deal with that and concentrate fully on what you are going to do with the race. So, that was pretty good. The driving side of things, it has been quite nice to score points in the first three races and improve every time, really, so it's been pretty good so far.

Q. Good afternoon. Can I just ask, it's almost as if the F-1 situation is reeling its head again giving as association with British American -- (inaudible). What are your current explanations for the F-1?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: This always makes me laugh because we are talking about the same thing in the press conference after races. I am delighted to have had the second place for the weekend. At the moment, my only focus and concentration is on the FedEx Series this year, to do as good a job as I can for Team KOOL Green. I am there for at least a couple of years. That is my focus. I have got a lot of things to do, but the championship is incredibly competitive as I think we have seen so far with the times not only on the ovals, but on the street courses, and it takes up all your time. The Formula One thing, it would be nice. In the future, I would love to do Formula One. It's something I have always wanted to do, and if I get the chance to run with the top team in the future, that would be great, but for this season and at least next season, I think my whole focus is going to be over here. Just because you do well in this series, it doesn't automatically mean you are going to run off to Formula One. If a good chance came, then, fair enough.

Q. Can I just ask, how do you lead Indy cars with the total speed of the processional F-1s that we are seeing across here?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think you have seen the FedEx Champ car thing is -- the series is the most competitive it has ever been.

Q. I think the last two laps on Sunday highlighted that.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, that was pretty interesting. We had new tires, myself and Brian. We were just pushing the thing. Everybody was just trying their hardest. What we are seeing is there is a lot of overtaking. I think, again, to describe Sunday's race in the press conference, it's a driver's championship. Formula One is more of a manufacturer's championship. Because of that, you got to have the right car engine combination to be able to do anything in the championship at all. Here, there is 15, 20 cars can go out there and win a race, and there is 15 and 20 cars trying to win a race, so it's making it pretty interesting.

Q. Congratulations, Dario. I would like to ask if the results so far are a reflection, more than anything, of the knowledge you have gained of each of the three circuits from last year and little things that you may have picked up that are already paying off?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't think it's the knowledge of the circuits so much, I mean, I think last year. Especially on the street courses anyway, it wasn't the knowledge of the circuits. On the ovals, it's probably the experience factor as opposed to the knowledge of the circuits, but on the circuit, you can generally go quickly after five, ten laps, comparatively quickly. I can anyway. I think it's more the fact that I have been testing and I have got more experience in how the race is run a little bit more now, and the setup of the team as such. It's just a more relaxed atmosphere for me to work in, and that's paying off at the moment because we are doing everything. As I said before, everything is very, very structured, and that's helping a lot.

Q. Is there one example you can give of the difference?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's difficult to sort of say. You know, during the race situation, I am very, very relaxed, and the people in the pits are very relaxed, and they are giving me the information I need during the race to do the job, and I am concentrating on finishing the races.

Q. Congratulations, Dario. I am wondering for those of us who were either watching on TV or watching on the big screen at the racetrack, we got to see like the overall view of those last two laps. What was it like sitting in your seat?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: It was a rather unusual position on Sunday and the fact that after 30 laps, I had no mirrors. Both of the mirrors vibrated loose on the car. It was a brand new car. I think the car had done four miles before we turned up at Long Beach. It was a brand new car. Both mirrors vibrated loose just from the stresses of the street circuit, really, so I could only see ahead of me. It made it pretty interesting. I actually watched the race yesterday when I got back to Indy here and it looked more exciting, I think. The TV did a great job of showing the excitement. In the car, I wasn't really thinking too much about it. I was just trying to get ahead of Brian and then trying to catch Zanardi, but there was no chance to catch him because of the entire situation at the time.

Q. Were you waiting on Zanardi to make his move on Brian and then trying to go through the door once it got opened?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: What happened there, I was running pretty much as quickly as I could because of the mileage you have on the rear cars. We did one and a half times what we would normally do on those tires and they were still going, so I was running as quickly as I could, and Brian really started to slow down to defend against Alex, and that was the point where I managed to catch him just at the right point. I saw him make his move and I saw what happened to Brian and I thought it was a perfect opportunity, so I just went for it. If I hadn't past Brian there, I would have past him at another point in the next couple of laps.

Q. You mentioned three or four times so far the new structured environment with Team KOOL Green. I am wondering, is part of that structured environment the fact that the financing is there? You don't have to worry about the sponsorship that you were having to deal with last year? That, basically, all you have to worry about and all the team worries about is racing?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: We have a great sponsor in KOOL and the rest of the sponsors that we have and that's one of the things that the team doesn't have to worry about at the moment is the sponsorship thing. We just go out there and we try to win races. Barry has got a very good way of running the team. He keeps it all very calm. His whole focus is on winning races. Again, my engineer, he is very calm about the whole situation. He kind of makes me laugh sometimes because I am in the car getting all excited and getting all of my adrenaline flowing and he is sitting in the pits having a cup of tea, and he just calms me down the whole way through. So that works very, very well.

Q. Hi, Dario. How are you doing? That was a great run.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thank you.

Q. Coming off Motegi, going into a street course and then going back to an oval at Nazareth, how do you prepare for that, and can you talk a little bit about Nazareth?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think we are preparing in the best way possible. We are doing testing tomorrow and the next day, weather permitting. We are going to go out there and get organized and get a little bit more experience. Nazareth, it's a very interesting track I think is the best way to describe it for me anyway. It really takes a bit of getting used to, going around there and qualifying in 19 seconds. In the race, there is just so much going on there. There is a three-corner layout; not a lot of room for passing. It's going to be very, very strong in traffic there. The car has got to be absolutely set up to perfection. Generally, what you find there is one person hits the nail on the head. They are quicker, and the rest of the guys are just playing catch-up all we can.

Q. There has been some testing on that new rear wing for the super speedways. What's your opinion on it?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: We haven't actually run that yet. Maybe in the next couple weeks, we will. It all depends on what is happening with the rule situation. That's a good thing. They are just trying to curb the speed at the moment. The fastest they do that, the engineers, it will make us go quicker again. They are just trying to look for a more permanent solution. The people at CART are really working hard on the safety, and some of the accidents we have seen in the past couple of weeks, especially Bobby's accident, you see him walking away from that. Greg's accident as well. It just proves that the work these people are doing is terrific.

Q. Good luck in testing and have a great race in Nazareth.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thanks very much.

Q. Dario, you said it takes you five to ten laps to get up to speed. Is this on a new track, because that sounds like an awfully fast acclimation which I have heard is one of your strong suits?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's pretty much, that's on a new track. If I am in a new place, which happened every place last year really so I got quite used to it, I would walk around the track, first of all, pretty slowly making notes in my head what it was all about. Then I would tend to ride my bike or something or in the golf cart, and then on Saturday morning, you would generally be reasonably competitive for the five to ten laps. It's just the way I have always done it. I guess that was one of the strong points is that I have learned quite a lot of new circuits in the past couple of years and I am reasonably quicker at picking them up.

Q. Dario, how are you doing? Last year, Paul, your teammate, started a three-win streak there at Nazareth last year. What can you learn from him?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I said to him after Long Beach for the weekend, he was a little bit done after the race and the incident that he had, and I turned to him and said in the next couple of days, I am going to be asking you an awful lot of questions. His strong point or stronger point -- he is strong at every kind of track, but his strongest point is definitely the one mile ovals in Nazareth and Milwaukee. I am just going to try to learn as much as I possibly can from him; the way he sets up the car, the way he drives in traffic. I am going to use that and work with him on that one.

Q. So, it's a big advantage for you this year to have not only the year of experience under your belt, but to have Paul in the same garage?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Definitely. That's a huge advantage for me and the rest of the guys in the Team KOOL Green. It's an advantage to have a teammate, especially one as fast as Paul because in Long Beach, he was slightly quicker than me. I thought he was making a mistake in a couple of areas. It turned out that I was actually slower in points. I didn't think so, but it's very, very helpful to have him there.

Q. Also, with Paul's car, how close is Paul's car set up to yours and when can we expect Paul to sort of do a little better?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: On the setup side of things, to start with, we were very close on setup when we went testing to Homestead, all of these kind of places, and we really could have gone a little bit different in the setup mode, and he likes the car to handle different from me both on the oval and on the road course. As for when you are going to see Paul at the front, I think it will happen in the next race date. It's just that weekend, it was something out of Paul's control that stopped him from scoring points.

Q. Dario, you say you watched the race yesterday and, of course, you were in the race and you had a ring side seat. The construction of the cars, that has to give you a great bit of a security, all of the slamming and banging that was going on out there in Long Beach. Do you want to comment about that?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: There was a lot of incidents at Long Beach, so there was a lot of people touching. I didn't actually have any contact with any car in the race. I was trying to stay out of trouble the whole day, but there was a few people doing some pretty strong moves out there. It's the nature of the circuit, and everybody is trying their hardest, and these things do happen when you have got two or three people with different ideas. That's what happens, but, again, the construction and safety of the car is fantastic. It's by no means a safe sport. Every driver realizes that, but the people on the safety teams are trying to make it as safe as possible. The other good thing, we got all of the guys from the CART safety team out there, and if anything goes wrong, they are there within seconds.

Q. Your teammate Paul Tracy was up on two wheels there for a little bit. Somebody else was up on two wheels. I think it was Michael Andretti. No, it was Bobby Rahal was up on two wheels, but as you say, that the nature of the street course. It also proves the worth of the cars.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's right, and the Reynard I drive is a very, very strong car. It has to pass a lot of safety tests before you are allowed to race in them. It's very reassuring to have that and the extra features.

Q. It gives you a great sense of security; right?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's the biggest sense of security that you can have in a car.

Q. Dario, talk a moment about some of the things that you do away from the racetrack, and the one thing I am interested in is the fact that you are still trying to get your certification to pilot a helicopter?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yes, that's something I would like to do. Something I haven't had the chance to do since I started in the CART series just over a year ago. Now that I am based in Fort Lauderdale, there is an airport pretty close by and I can do that, but I don't have the time. It's something I really wanted to do. Whenever I do get the chance, I will be down there in Fort Lauderdale trying to do that.

Q. What is the type of feeling that you get when you are piloting a helicopter? I am sure you have been through the training and what have you. Is it a relaxation mode that you go through or, in another sense, does it keep you competitive?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: There is a lot of relaxation involved. It's amazing how difficult it is to fly a helicopter, well, I find it anyway, because I am relatively new to it. I am just on the very basic points of it at the moment. It's incredibly difficult and I have got a lot of admiration for the people that do it, but there is some relaxation as well involved in that. It's just the freedom it gives you, you know.

Q. Dario, you talked about F-1 with some of the other people, some of the other European drivers. What is the lure of F-1 other than the financial end of it?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the lure of F-1, ever since I was like very, very small, I have been watching Formula One races, and I suppose it's the culture, the European culture. The racing is certainly not as competitive at the moment as we have, but, again, you have got to be -- to win a CART race, to win a Formula One race, you have to be a good driver. There is no better drivers in Formula One than there is in CART. I don't believe it. But, Formula One has always been my dream, and I think it will in the future continue to be.

Q. I wondered what kind of family representation you had at Long Beach that weekend?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: My dad was out there. As you know, he was over in Japan with me as well. He was very, very happy. I had my aunt and uncle there. They live over in LA. My cousin --

Q. Is that one of their first visits?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: This is the third race they have been to now, but it was certainly more successful than the last two they were at, so that was nice for them.

Q. Did you not finish the last two or something?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think I finished both, but I think it was like two 12th places. My cousin was also there, so that was nice.

Q. Was there a big party afterwards.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, there wasn't. I was on the flight back to Indianapolis. Having all my friends, and I didn't realize quite how many people were watching the race back in Scotland and the rest of Europe because the phone has been non-stop. All my friends were burning the midnight oil watching it. There was phone calls. Some of them in London, all over the place. It was good.

Q. Dario, in the past, there has been some talk about you perhaps doing some other races for Mercedes in other venues such as sports cars and possibly open dates in October. Does this look like it might be a possibility?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Now that I am driving for Honda, I won't be driving certainly this year for Mercedes.

T.E. McHALE: We want to thank Dario Franchitti for taking the time to join us. We wish him luck in his test at Nazareth tomorrow and Thursday, and thanks to all of you for joining us, and we will talk to you soon.



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