CART Media Conference
August 31, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We'd like to thank you all for taking the time to be with us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green, defending Champion of Sunday's Molson Indy Vancouver at Concord Pacific Place. Good afternoon, Dario. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: How are you?
T.E. McHALE: Dario, driver of the No. 27 KOOL Honda Reynard claimed his second career FedEx Championship Series victory and earned a $440,000 payday in the process at Vancouver last year. That victory, one of three Dario's scored in the final 6 events of the season, helped fuel him to a third place finish in the Championship. This year Dario comes to Vancouver in second place, four points behind rookie Juan Montoya, the FedEx Championship Series points leader. Dario leads the series with nine podium finishes including victories at Toronto and Detroit and has been on the podium of his six past seven starts on temporary street circuits dating through his victory at Vancouver last year. He comes into this year's Vancouver event on a run of five consecutive top-five finishes including the aforementioned victories at Toronto and Detroit; a runnerup effort at Chicago and finishes of third at Mid-Ohio and fifth at Michigan. He arrives at Vancouver with 168 points; four behind Montoya who leads the Championship with 172 points. The Molson Indy Vancouver, Round 16 of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ABC TV on Sunday September 5th beginning at 4 P.M. eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Dario.
Q. Last year, big payday. Now there is no pole award. I guess that is going to be a bit of a change four.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: (laughs) Certainly less financial reward for winning, but the 22 points means much more than any money, for sure, because the Championship is at stake.
Q. That is about what I expected you to say. We have done some changes to the track. It is 25 feet wider, the entrance into Turn 1 and the pit exit is radiused around from 1 to 2. The back straight down Quebec, they have taken out that little dogleg chicane so you should see some high speeds. And down in the south end, turn 7 and 8 has been widened by about 15 feet. How is that going to help you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, I think the biggest changes for us are the opening up of the corner at the end of the main straight - I think it was turn 6 or something last year - that is really going to help us because it straightened lined the breaking but it also kept the corner at the same radius. That is going to help for passing. Obviously the wider track helps because of the pit lane entry and where the pit lane joins the track, managed to clean that up a lot which is good. The last corner, as much as I love that corner, great flat-out corner; you can gain a lot of time there, but it was very, very dangerous; especially when you considered the pit entry. So they have tidied that whole area up. They had to do something because the monorail overhead, they couldn't use pillars, I think they came up with some good solutions there.
Q. Dario, you were able obviously to win the race here last year. It has traditionally been a very difficult track to pass on, been a lot of body damage to the cars - that sort of thing. But it seems to me that generally on this circuit in recent races anywhere, there have been a lot of announces among drivers. I think before the Chicago race you were talking about the some of the problems with the back markers in this past race Andretti, Tracy went at it. I think Vasser started lecturing Robby Gordon after the race. Is that becoming more of a problem like, I know the series is very, very competitive but it seems like a lot of these back markers are holding up a lot of the contenders like yourself. Is that becoming an increasing problem on the circuit and why is that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think, yeah, it is becoming a problem. The series is certainly more competitive than it ever has been. My sort of standpoint on the whole thing, the back markers - on a one-mile oval you can understand them fighting for the position because you can gain -- if you are a lap down you can still win that race. But in somewhere like Mid-Ohio or a Vancouver or a Toronto, if you are a lap down, you are in serious trouble. It is a long way around one of those tracks and to get that far behind, you have done something plainly wrong. If they are catching you, then the person behind you is obviously far quicker, so you have got to play the game a little bit and get out of that guy's way. I think what Jimmy was concerned about was the fact he was held up for 70 laps in a 225 lap race by a guy who wasn't in contention. It is a problem and CART really are going to have to do something about it. Wally talked about doing something before Chicago and didn't do anything with what was happening - Montoya -- the guy in front of Montoya was actually weaving in front of him, a back marker, was just basically weaving, chopped him three or four times. It was to my benefit because it was making -- create a chance to get past him, but I still thought it was certainly out of order.
Q. Given the history of this race, though, do you anticipate that even becoming more of a problem here if it was a problem on a one mile oval, you would even think it would be more of a problem on this temporary street course.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Better not be. I expect fully that CART and Wally will take the bull by the horns this weekend before the race, at the driver's meeting and solve the problem right out. I think that is what is going to happen because I think he has had enough of the problem as well. It is obviously a difficult track to pass at any street courses, but I think these changes made this year will certainly increase those chances of passing and I think that hopefully should stop some of these problems. As you get into any season it starts to tighten up towards the end, you do get these occasional free tempers; the trick is to try and keep your head when everyone else isn't.
T.E. McHALE: Dario joins us today from his home in Scotland and that is where we are going for our next question.
Q. I wanted to ask the last couple of races Juan has qualified quite far behind you in the -- not a huge amount but significantly. He has produced two storming performances. Has that surprised you at all?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I have talked to him about it on the podiums afterwards. Basically I think they were lost with the car at both tracks. They really were in trouble. They managed to get it together. I think Mid-Ohio wasn't quite as storming as it would have appeared because of the problems we had with the slow puncture and the back markers. So we lost twelve seconds which I guarantee without that puncture that wouldn't have happened; would have been a different story. But I think if you are going to qualify badly, you are making a lot -- generally you should be making it a lot more difficult for yourself, but we are -- the trick is to keep qualifying at the front and makes it a little bit easier especially on street courses.
Q. Do you think the performances have taken something out of him or not?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think he has driven well in both. I think it has been -- a one mile oval certainly easier to come from that, that back position if you are car is working well. His car obviously was working pretty well. As I say, if you continue to qualify badly it is going to bite you.
Q. At the end of last year things really -- you really came into your own at the end of last year. So going into that phase of the season now, I mean, obviously nothing is taken for granted, but does that give you any sort of particular confidence going to places like Vancouver and Houston where you won races last year and you obviously know your way around those tracks and should -- by rights should be competitive there?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Hopefully we will be competitive. As you say, you never take anything for granted. I am hoping -- the car has traditionally worked very well on the street courses - the tracks that were coming up the last -- every track now, between now and the end of the season, I love racing on, so I am hoping it all comes together. Every weekend, you can't take anything for granted; just got to make sure you work as hard as you can to get there and if you can do that and keep everything clean in the race; stay out of trouble, then there is a not a lot more you can do. I am just really at the moment just looking to be scoring as many points and trying to win as many races as possible and really looking forward to this last part of the season.
Q. It is going great for you. Was there a point this season that you really saw this team -- I mean, even though you have been strong since the beginning, it seems like at about a quarter way through the season not only your car, but also Paul's car, both teams gelled. Was there something that you saw happen within the team?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think the team -- Paul and I, as well as the other members of the team, have been working since we joined there in 1997 to get this whole thing working as one. I think the introduction of Tony Cicale and Tino Belli on Paul's side really has helped him tremendously. I think I have been happy the whole time with Don Halliday. I really wouldn't rather be with nobody else in the pit lane. I think, for me, he is the guy. I think these three guys along with Scott Graves in the engineering department and Stewart, they start working together and really -- there was a time maybe when the car wasn't as good as it should have been and we just picked it up as a team. We have been working really well the whole time. We just picked it up. At really Toronto really, I think, was the turning point to get that one too, you get that bit of confidence about you and it is very good for the team.
Q. I asked you before the season started and then about five races into the season I asked the question then and I have got to ask it now: You have told me twice that you don't feel as though you have earned the right to be a Championship contender. Do you feel now that you have earned the right to be a Championship contender?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think with the performances through the year, I think myself and Team Green deserves to be where we are. Now it is a matter of whether we deserve to win the Championship or not, whether we can keep it going.
Q. You say about the turning point being in Toronto, what was it that you found in terms of getting the car to what it ought to be? I realize you can't be specific, but I mean, for a long time it seemed like Montoya just had that much more car than you did even though the equipment was the same?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I mean, these cars, because they all run basically the same equipment, there is a lot of the difference, tailoring the car to each individual driver, getting it just right and we -- I don't think we quite got that as -- we really did at the end of last season had the car absolutely perfect for my driving style.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think in Toronto we just had a car that I could drive -- the car was great. We just got it to a point where the car, I would describe it as almost perfect.
Q. A question of balance or the rear of the car working the way you like it to work or --
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Balance is very important, but just getting the whole package right and that was something we managed to do. That was when the car is working as well as it was at that track, it gives you confidence and you can really do anything you want to with the thing.
Q. When did you reach that point last year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think in Portland, as early as Portland we had a car we could do pretty much anything with. But unfortunately we didn't quite get it organized until Road America.
Q. There were other factors, but the car was just the way you wanted it from Portland forward last year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah.
Q. I was curious kind of what the dynamic is between you and Juan. Do you enjoy the fact that not only are you racing for the Championship but will actually come down in races that you two are racing each other for the win as opposed to one of you doing really well one week and the other being way off, do you like that kind of a situation?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I enjoy the competition with Juan, I really -- I -- we in Chicago, we were kind of slapping each other's back after the race. I would have been a lot happier if I had won the race obviously. But I enjoyed the race. I enjoy the competition. I think he does as well. To have that competition there, obviously when the Championship is concerned it is nice to be way out in front, but we haven't got that situation, so I am going to enjoy every moment of the competition.
Q. As you spoke a little earlier, this is obviously going into some race tracks and a part of the season where you have already established yourself as being very strong and maybe a little extra confident. What also does it do with him being a rookie? I know he obviously is in a great car and with a great team. But did you necessarily last year, when people were picking you to start challenging for the Championship, expect that you would be really challenging a rookie here at the end?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, you can never discount anybody and I think he has done a great job. Being a rookie in 1997 I know it wasn't really when we got the car sorted out. (inaudible) When we got the car sorted, we were consistent running in the front. We didn't score any point, but we were up the front pretty much all the time. So I know that is -- (inaudible) once you've got the car working right. So with a car that has won the last three Championships, you got to expect-- you got a challenge.
Q. Talk about winning from the pole obviously you did it last year in last year and no one won from the pole for a long time. Then this year you have Greg Moore winning; then Juan coming in. Does that make you appreciate both winning the pole and winning the race and also another question you mentioned in the driver's meeting that Wally was going to talk over certain points hopefully the way the passing is at Vancouver. There has been a big issue about lap traffic. I know you had some choice words for PJ Jones. Talk about what you would like to be done or is it worse than it has been in the past?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I am not quite sure as to the first question exactly what the question is on that one, but the second one about the back markers, I think on the road course you should -- if your a back marker and you move somebody up for more than say one or two laps, max of two laps, if you hold somebody up for more than that you are black flagged, you are out of there. I think -- on an oval, you have to look to increasing it, for sure. On a road course, should be two-lap maximum allowance (inaudible).
Q. About winning from the pole, I guess what I wanted to say was you guys went through -- I mean, CART went through a period where no one won from pole; then you won it. Then like this year, it seems like people winning poles and winning races. Does it make winning both of those even more special?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, yeah, I mean, the time it was certainly very special. It was financially beneficial. It was unfortunate for Bryan, very fortunate for me because Bryan wanted to do exactly the same thing and win from the pole at Laguna Seca the very next weekend so I think he was a little bit upset at being just one week too late. It was obviously a very good feeling.
Q. The track this year, basically you are driving on the same road, same corners you did last year, but the very widening of the track, removal of chicane, how will that affect your approach to the track, setup-wise to the car?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I am not sure setup-wise exactly. We will sit and talk with the engineer, Don, when I arrive there. He has already got his ideas on what he thinks we should do. We will probably go have a look; see what we think we need to change. As from a driving point of view, I am just going to look at the whole circuit which I think because of the changes it is, you just got to look at it as a whole new circuit and learn it as a whole new circuit and get on with it. I think anything we learned last year we can certainly use, maybe a little bit of driving setup-wise but in someway it is a new game.
Q. I remember last year during the Indy there was a big, big discussion at the driver's meeting about the changes that needed to be made to the track, I suppose. How many of those changes that were brought up in the meeting were actually made and are you happy with the changes that were made?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Pretty much 100% it looks like they have done pretty much everything we asked. We are not going to know fully until we get there, but what I have seen so far when I was up in Vancouver in January and what CART has shown us on various drawings, we think they have taken everything into account with the redesign of the course.
Q. Was basically the big issue that final quick turn with the pit lane entrance --
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That was one of the big problems. They really have taken that into account with -- also where Greg and PJ crashed, had the big crash, they have opened up the lane so there won't be a blank corner anywhere, very important.
Q. I read an article in one of the papers here, the Daily Record, about you that more or less made that you really don't get any recognition back home from people in the street for what you are doing. Were those quotes accurate first of all, and secondly, how have you noticed things on this trip back in terms of the recognition for what you are doing and for people coming up to you might say in the street?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, I mean, I think there are certain papers, Sunday Post been one of them who have been giving me great coverage and everything I have been doing since I started out there. I think without that, there hasn't really been that much coverage. I think, as you know, with the Daily Record, most of the things in there are misquotes.
Q. Yes, that is why I was asking.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Huge amounts of misquotes; a lot of made up stuff.
Q. That was the one probably about a month back, yeah?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, what is the word, sensational is a bit --
Q. Yes, it was, the whole thing, yeah.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You do an interview and they sort of do with that. That is something -- not people that I really like to deal with. It was a bit unfortunate. I think there is always -- I think the fact -- interesting story, I was in the petro station the other day. I was just standing for my petro and the guy told me -- he did a double-take and said, oh -- he said, I am about to lose my job, I am up watching your races on channel 5 on Eurosport at night and stuff and he was really happy. So the recognition is really getting better. That was quite a funny story the way the guy did it. It was -- he knew the points, he knew -- you are four points behind and having this discussion, I think it is definitely getting a bigger following; certainly the coverage helps. I think the TV coverage is -- when it is on, it is good.
Q. I was curious to get your take on McLaren's approach to the last race and the effect of them giving the go ahead for David to win the race?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it is great for David. I really do. I thought the first corner was pretty interesting, having come close with my teammate on a number of occasions. I think it is great. I think they have to be commended for doing that and for not taking team orders (sic) at this point when they both still got a good chance of winning the Championship. I think David had a superb race of the weekend, really did, and really proved he wanted to win that race. I think all the people who said bad things about him, they were sort of eating humble pie.
Q. Were you surprised that Ron Dennis let it happen?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I was. Very glad.
Q. We didn't realize at the beginning of this conference call that you were in Scotland. I know you probably went back there for a visit. Did you go back to vote as well and being a driver, are you labor or are you a nationalist?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: To be honest, I have been over in the States and the political situation here really is something I haven't been following too closely. Politics, I try to keep to myself really. But no, I think I just came back for a holiday, just came back to enjoy being at home with family and friends.
Q. When will you come back fly to Vancouver?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Tomorrow morning.
Q. Does it take you a while to get over the jet lag? Doesn't seem to?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not at all. I have got my mom and my today and myself are all flying out tomorrow typical Franchitti style, we are on three different flights. Our organization is not the best. So...
Q. Up until the last race Paul Tracy had, I think finished eight street races which was almost unprecedented for Paul or anything in the series. What is your relationship like with Paul? To me it almost seems it is either your influence or Barry's influence or both, but Paul seems to be much more of a control driver now, although I guess Michael Andretti would beg to differ radically after the last race. Do you personally think Paul is a different driver now after he has had a couple of years with Team Green that he was before?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, first of all, I think Michael's comment were inappropriate. His choice of words were certainly not appropriate. I think Paul -- the change in Paul Tracy is that (inaudible) Paul Tracy, and to a certain degree Barry and Tony Cicale, I really don't think I have got anything to do with that and can't take any credit for it, but certainly helps the team.
T.E. McHALE: We will take one final question.
Q. I got to the conference a bit late. I am afraid you may have been asked this already. We are in the midst of the silly season. I know that you had expressed interest in the past about going to, I guess, what is going to be Stewart now but they seem to be pretty well set with Irvine and Herbert. There has been rumors with you and McLaren and I wonder if you can clear up whether or not you had any negotiations going on at all that you can talk about?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Obviously negotiations are always confidential. I didn't express -- I think I expressed interest in going to Formula 1 in general as opposed to one team. I have a contract with Team Green for next season which I am very happy with and I am looking forward to continuing where we are at the moment. So after that then we will -- I think the time is then to discuss with other teams. But right now I am kind of busy in my own job.
Q. I was around in Detroit when you were here. I opened up the paper and the first thing I see is something about Franchitti quiet on personal life, something like that. It seems as your profile has grown and you have become one of the top drivers in CART at the moment, I wonder if the exposure has grown as well and if that has become any kind of distraction with all the media stuff on you that may be on yourself as opposed to racing in some way?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, not a distraction. I think I am more focused than I have ever been. Just right now I am not really thinking about much else apart from getting out there this weekend and trying to score 22 points and then after that it will be bout next weekend and trying to score 22 points.
T.E. McHALE: At this point we are going to wrap things up for the afternoon. Dario, we want to thank you for being with us this afternoon. Have a safe trip back across the Atlantic. We will see you in Vancouver. Best of luck in the Molson Indy Vancouver and rest of the FedEx Championship Series Season.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thanks, everybody, see you all in Vancouver.
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. We will talk to you next week.
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