CART Media Conference
March 9, 1999
T.E. McHALE: At this time we're doing to welcome Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green. Thanks for being us. Dario joins us following a breakout 1998 season which was highlighted by the first three victories of his FedEx Championship Series career. He collected those three triumphs in a span of three races: Road America, Vancouver and Houston respectively. His victory at Vancouver made him the first driver 22 races to win him the pole and earned him a total payout of $140,000 including a record $340,000 from the Marlboro Pole Award Fund. Driver of the No. 27 Honda KOOL Reynard, Dario also recorded a series-high five pole positions at Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, Mid-Ohio, Vancouver and Australia, respectively. Qualified on the front row for eight of the nine events of the season. Dario scored 93 of a possible one 132 PPG Cup points in the final six events of the year and won a series-high 226 laps on road and street courses.
Q. I'd like to ask Dario, even though I spoke to you yesterday, what kind of physical preparations you've done over the winter?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Physically, when I was in Scotland, I spent a lot of time really in the gym working on upper body, and, in fact, lower body strength as well. Endurance really. Basically the upper body, it takes a tremendous pounding: Neck, shoulders, arms, even the lower back. But you need to work on your legs because you obviously have to support them with G-force and you've got a lot of pressure on the brake pedals. When I came over to Florida, I started concentrating on the aerobic stuff: Riding a bike for long distances, running on the beach, build up, that sort of thing. It was difficult to do in Scotland because it was too cold. But there's no substitute for miles in the car. I think because I tested more this year there's also been a help in the physical side of things, but it's going to be a battle. I think I'm going to do some more just after the first race. I go to New York as well.
Q. Who's setting that up?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's my old trainer. He's got various drivers coming over from different parts of the world.
Q. What's his name?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Anthony Mathis (ph).
Q. How is Mathis spelled?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know.
Q. You seem to have -- you've done quite a bit of testing here just recently. Seems to have gone pretty well on the road circuits. Haven't been brilliantly quick on the ovals; although, the speed has been creeping up. How would you assess your overall situation going into the season in terms of competitiveness across the board?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The road course test, first of all, was really encouraging at Homestead -- not Homestead. Sebring. Sorry. We had also been quick at Firebird when we tested there. We had basically -- so the car feels pretty similar to the way it did last year on the road courses, which I hope is a good thing, because the car was competitive. If it had been competitive last year it would be competitive this year, but we will soon find out. But I'm very happy with the way that side of things is going. Obviously on the oval, spring training was a big disappointment because we haven't anywhere here near the pace of the race which was evident. Luckily I managed to sneak in a couple of days of testing down there last week and we gained about half a second on the time we had done previously, within 2/10 of the best time I think. But we were consistent which I think was more important to me. We got the car to behave consistently throughout a long run, throughout the changing conditions, which was really more important for me. So I'm a lot happier with the way things have worked here.
Q. By most accounts, Honda seems to have done a really good job across the board this winter with their engine, all aspects of it. Do you see that yourself? Do you feel that?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think they have made a tremendous amount of progress with the engine but again other people have done the same thing; so they have to keep ahead of the game. But there's still work to be done, but very encouraging.
Q. Dario, what, if anything, really do you think that CART now has to do now that Alex has gone to continue to compete with NASCAR and to get the headlines and create the attention on the circuit that NASCAR seems to always enjoy?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't think we have to do anything to replace Alex. I don't think that was one of the major issues. I think Alex took the headlines because he's winning the most races and rightly so. I think the series itself will create the headlines by the competitiveness of the racing and the excitement that it generates, really. I think NASCAR is a different type of racing, and then you have, you know, champ car has got its own particular style of race.
Q. So you don't think there's any real need to compete?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Obviously, if you put on a good show, there's not a lot you can do. And I think CART are always striving to get more fans. Fans are the people who make the sport happen, really; and obviously, we want to put a good show on for the fans and get as many fans as possible. So that's something CART and the drivers and everybody involved in the series is particularly aware of, and we just do the best we can on that side of things.
Q. Dario, real quick, follow-up on the question just asked, a lot of people see CART as sort of like -- it's been described as a land for Formula 1 refugees or wannabes and stuff. Would you describe the CART series if you were trying to sell it to fans? How would you describe what's going on in the series right now?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: You have to describe it as the closest, most competitive, fastest automobile racing series in the world. That's the way I see it. You have the most diversity with road course, street course, oval, super speedway, short oval. Really a very challenging for the driver and a very challenging series, and it has a huge -- huge different amount of things to offer the fans because of the different challenges that are faced by a team and driver, and really the competitiveness of the racing, which is incredibly close.
Q. Do you think though that in some -- most of these Formula 1 has it's own deal, and, of course, it's not that popular in the United States and NASCAR is all ovals with a couple of exceptions. Do you think you guys maybe try to be too much to all people, from a marketing standpoint?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not at all. I think the series is doing just the right job on that side of things. I think obviously the marketing -- I think the marketing side of things, more can be done to reach a wider audience and has to be worked upon now by CART; so I don't think we're trying to be too much to everybody. I think we're just putting on the best show that we can and I think it's a great show. And as I said before, all these different disciplines makes the championship.
Q. One more thing. Do you think people really appreciate the talent level in CART right now? When you look around, you know, you guys are young, but it seems like there's a lot of guys wanting to be the leader in the first turn now. Do you think people appreciate what's really there now?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know. I certainly -- I realize how competitive it is from my side of things, and I realize that I'm fighting against some very, very talented people. I know back in Europe they see the championship now as incredibly competitive and full of, you know, fast drivers and they think it's great racing. As for the fans over here perceive it, I think they see it the same way. I think the level is -- the level of talent is incredible in the series, not only with drivers, but through the whole teams.
Q. A lot has been written preseason about you being the heir apparent, the guy to beat. We just had on Greg Moore, and I guess that was said about him, and could be said about Adrian Fernandez. But you seem to be that everyone points at the with the cover stories. Are you comfortable with that being thrown at you before the season starts, and if you are, why?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The cover stories are nice, I must admit. But I think there's been a lot of talk and a lot of buildup to the season. And I think because of last season's championship results, they are picking certain people and saying these are the guys that are going -- are going to be the championship favorites. And really, it doesn't affect me the way -- I think -- it's nice that people, you know, appreciate what I did last year and the team did. And to see us as a championship challenge -- it really doesn't make any difference. The only way we're going to challenge for the championship is if score good points and win good races, and when we're not winning good races scoring good points. That way, it really doesn't affect me and I'm not really too worried about whether they label me championship favorite or no hope. We just go out and do the best job we can, and hopefully that's good enough.
Q. Do you like the attention? Would you rather people not talk about you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it's good they are talking about me. I think it shows we are doing something right; and obviously, the team is included in that equation. We're doing something right. That's what you aim for. You aim for success. When you do win, then the attention comes with that; so as long as they are talking about me, hopefully I'll be winning. It's a necessary part of the whole game.
Q. Dario, I just want to ask you kind of a two-part question here. The fact that both you and Greg, a lot of people feel that you two will be the ones challenging for the championship, you both have been -- Greg is still a Mercedes driver, and you have been in the past. And both of your careers actually team pointed towards Formula 1 and almost looks like it's a toss-up as to which one of you will get there first. But Greg had mentioned earlier in the conference this morning and he's weighing various options. And I know you're very close with him on a personal level. He mentioned NASCAR as one of the options he's considering. Would you be surprised to see him do that because of his background in open-wheel racing and his success in open-wheel racing?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: That's something -- I've never spoke to him about NASCAR. Speaking to him after the Iroq race, he enjoyed it. He was very excited about it. I think he really enjoyed that type of racing; so maybe I wouldn't be too surprised. But that would be a great loss to automobile racing if he did move over to NASCAR. But again, that's Greg's career and I'm sure Rick and Greg will do what's best for him.
Q. In your own case, do you look at CART as sort of the jumping off point for Formula 1? If you win the championship this year -- you had a very strong finish last year. People might say you are ready. Would you feel you'd be ready at the end of this season, supposing you had those credentials to back up like winning a CART championship?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think I've got to look at winning the championship before anything like that happens. There will be 20 incredibly tough races this year. My focus is to do my very best job for Team Green; so really that's all I'm thinking about at the moment. Formula 1 is something I definitely want to do in the future under the right conditions to give myself the best chance for success over there.
Q. One last question with the championship here. Greg was sort of mentioning the 6 top contenders of the championship and included both himself and yourself, but there was no mention paid of Paul Tracy, your teammate. I know Paul wouldn't be racing -- he'll be one race down because of suspension. He won't race in Miami, but you've been with him and you've seen this test session. And people have been saying for years this guy is ready to do something and for some reason he doesn't do it. What kind of off-season has Paul Tracy had, and how do you expect him to do this year in the championship race?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Paul definitely has the talent to that. No doubt about it. He's one of the fastest guys out there and there's not many faster. Off-season-wise, I think Paul's had a very good off-season. We tested at Homestead last week and he was -- he was as quick as anybody down there. He was -- he was driving incredibly well just now. I know he's one race down, but I don't think it will take him long to make up the deficit. I think he could be a real contender this year. But again, there's 15 guys I would say that have a realistic shot, and the ones who put it together most consistent are going to be looking towards the championship.
Q. The difference between the Reynard chassis from last year to this year is quite slight. Can you explain the differences?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not a lot, really. The front wing is different. There's some under -- some aerodynamics under the floor are a little different. A little different side board detail. Cockpit is slightly narrower, I think. That's about it.
Q. How does it feel?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Very similar to last year. One other thing, the steering comes out at a different angle which I don't like. They have to modify that. It feels great. It feels same as it did last year on the road courses. On the oval the car is actually starting to feel better than it did last year, which is good.
Q. Wondered whether you approach this season whether in terms of so-many races, and then a second part of the season or perhaps a third, or whether you take them one at a time when you try to strategize your year.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I certainly try to look at it one race at a time. I don't think it's sensible to plan any further ahead. You have to just look at doing the best job that you can at any one -- any given weekend. And every weekend is obviously about finishing in the highest position you can in the race, because that's what gives you the points. That's points on a qualifying car, not a race car. You have to finish the race and get the points.
Q. Can you talk about the importance of getting a bagful of point in the first few faces and not worry about winning? Is that something you've discussed with him?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's something we definitely talked about last year and we have to finish races because we're a brand new outfit. The fact that we have two new cars and two new drivers, they had never won two cars before. I think now we're in a different situation. We have a year of experience together. And I think we expect a little bit more, but again same thing holed true. You must score points.
Q. Have your preparations or the team's preparations changed from this year from one year ago?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think we're doing slightly more. I would think we're doing slightly more testing preseason. I think we were -- a bit more constructed about the whole thing because we've really -- over the last season found what the problems we face are, and the consistent problems we find; so we're now trying to deal with those. And we have some definite problems to start. I think the other difference is we're doing a lot more work with Firestone, developing the road course tire, and that's obviously given us more miles and insight into the way they are building the tires.
Q. You obviously showed some speed on the ovals from time to time. But you were so dominant on the street courses and the road courses. What have you done to improve your performance on the ovals?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Really just worked to get the car as consistent as possible. We really worked at Homestead through the end of the season; so we've really been kind of limiting the miles I've done on the ovals. I think the next couple of months the ovals' testing program is going to be pretty severe. We're going to be doing some serious miles there. (inaudible) I think there's no substitute for mileage on the oval, and that's what we're aiming to do to try and improve my performance. I think obviously sometimes Fontana we were right up at the front. Milwaukee, at the last, we were running pretty competitive as well; so I think it's all coming together on the oval.
Q. Is there anything you learned through the race last year that you can apply this year?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think so. I think once you've won a race, once I won that first one, now I know what it's all about: How to put myself in a position to win races. I felt more confident of the ability to do that. It just helps in that way I think that's something I can carry over, not only on this season, but definitely in the future.
Q. If you had to sell our listeners on one thing that tells that you you're going to be a championship contender in '99, what would you say to them?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I don't know if I am going to be a championship contender, to be honest. I don't try and look in the crystal ball and say because we were quick last year we're necessarily going to be good this year. I just hope that the work that we're putting in in the off-season in the preseason testing and the momentum we had from last year all carries over and allows us to become a championship contender, but that's not something that I expect. I don't think it's my right to be up there at the front. I think we're going to have to work for it. I don't think because we had a good season necessarily means we're going to have it this year. I think we're going to have to work bloody hard to get out in front and stay there.
Q. Does that mean you're a realist and possibly even to the fact that: I've got to earn what I do and maybe I haven't paid the dues yet?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think I've paid the dues as much as anybody else, to be honest. I think -- and I think I'm in the same boat as anybody else. I think it's just a case of you have to work hard to be up there. I think there's no -- if you're doing to win a championship, you're not doing to cruise to it because nobody has any -- any right just to be up there. Everybody is going to have to work hard to do that. And I'm a realist and I suppose being Scottish, a little bit of a pessimist in a way. I don't count my chickens before they hatch.
Q. Can you just talk real quickly about when you came over in '97, what did you expect and now that here you are two years later as one of the guys being mentioned and how fast things are happening?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I'm not sure exactly what I expected. Obviously, when you get in the car, you -- I try to be at the front all the time. It's -- and when I'm not, I'm very disappointed; so I always hoped I'd get to this position, but I didn't expect it. It's been an interesting development in that right from the start, we were sometimes in a position to win races but we just didn't do it. And it took so long of just knocking on the door and then it finally happened. So it's been an interesting development the way it's all come about.
Q. Did it come about even faster than you envisioned? You didn't know if you were going to be here past a year, really?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I didn't know that first year. When I sat in the car for the first time, when I sat in the car at spring training in 1997, I didn't really expect to be up in the front. But when I went to go to St. Louis and was at the front and almost won the race, I thought to myself: I can win one of these thing. And then from that point on, I was thinking "I can win it," and when it didn't happen, it was very frustrating.
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