CART Media Conference
June 1, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. We'd like to thank everybody for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Our guest today is driver Dario Franchitti of Team KOOL Green who currently stands second in the FedEx Championship Series following Saturday's third place finish in the Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway. Good afternoon Dario. Thank you for joining us today. In his second year with Team KOOL Green Dario has picked up where he left off during his breakout 1998 campaign where he finished third in the FedEx Championship Series. Saturday's third place effort represented his fourth podium performance of the season, following seconds at Long Beach and Rio De Janeiro, and a third in the season opener at Homestead. Dario, in fact, has finished on the podium in eight of his past 12 starts in the FedEx Championship Series dating to his first series victory at Road America last year. He has scored FedEx Championship Series points in 10 of his last 12 finishes over that same span and has qualified among the top three drivers for 11 of his past 17 starts in the series, dating to last year at Portland. Heading into Sunday's Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile, he stands second to rookie, Juan Montoya, 69 points to 65 in the FedEx Championship Series points race. The Miller Lite 225, round seven of the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised via a one-hour tape delay on Sunday, June 6th beginning at 4 p.m., Eastern time. With that, we will open it up for questions for Dario. Since Dario is from Scotland, it seems appropriate we go there for our first question.
Q. I'd like to ask you if you think the season is beginning to take the kind of shape that you would like at the moment? Do you see it following into the kind you hoped it would?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The first thing I think was the fact that we had the podium before the start of the season and the third place at Homestead. The second at Rio and the third place at St. Louis over the weekend. I think that set of things, yeah, we're definitely on track. We're very positive in the way things have been going. I think that the only real disappointment was Long Beach with the second. Second is a good result, but we felt like the car wasn't what it had been last year. But we spent two days up at Road America last week, and we think we're back, two difficult days testing. We think we're back where we were with the car last year. The guys at Team KOOL Green has been working hard. Since Rio we have been nonstop.
Q. Is there a feeling that this year that you're getting the oval strategies right?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: We're definitely doing something better than we have been on the ovals better. We're finishing, and we're competitive. We're pretty quick. There were a couple that we were wing this year. This time last year we were definitely not in that position. I think the team has been working so hard, and I think the confidence is pretty high on the team. So it makes -- with the results coming, it makes us push even harder.
Q. First of all, you're talking about your improved success this season on the ovals. You're much more comfortable. But what about the situation you had where we're going to have to use the small wings again in Milwaukee, what was your thought about the use of that wing?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think basically my thoughts about the track it was too small for the cars. I think with the big wings we didn't have much of a race there. And I think with the small wings it was pretty much the same story. The wings definitely make -- the smaller wings make the car move around a lot more, and yet the car is definitely more on an edge than it was before. But I think if you then look at the race in is St. Louis over the weekend, last year it wasn't good, but this year it was one of the best oval races we've had in a long time. I think it's got a lot to do with the track, as well.
Q. What about the Milwaukee track, then?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Milwaukee is obviously a lot wider than Nazareth. It would be difficult to comment on -- right now it's a one-lane track when we tested up there. But you're breaking pretty hard at both ends, and both through turns one and three. So you definitely have the possibility of having a good race up there. It really depends on a couple of factors, basically the mechanical grips, how clean the surface is on the outside line. You have to look at I think the tire that Firestone came out with in St. Louis, had so much mechanical grip, that even with the small wings we were able to experiment in the different lanes. But Milwaukee, the surface may not have the mechanical grip available. Only time will tell. I'm hoping it will be a good race, because last year's race at Milwaukee was a great race, and I think if the track is conducive, it's a very good race.
Q. Your name was brought up in particular as kind of a guy that people were disappointed that hadn't got a chance to run at Indy. Have you felt that way? Is that something that's bothered you any?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I hate to say it, but not really. It's not something I've ever -- I used to watch it as a kid, but I think -- I talked to my mechanics about it, obviously a lot of those guys were involved when Jack won the Speedway, and they talk about it with -- they just -- a light goes on with them when they talk about it, the feeling of walking out in front of all the fans on Sunday morning. And I think they are very upset with -- they feel it's a shadow of its former self. To me it's not a big thing because I've never raced there. But for my team, I think it's a big deal because they know what it once was. I would like the challenge of driving there in the future, but it's not -- I think any series is bigger than one race.
Q. I'm sitting here looking at you so close to either tying or taking the points lead. I'm wondering, do you look at Milwaukee where you can take the points lead or do you look at it in that it's another race in a 20 race schedule?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: This is another race in a 20 race schedule. It's the same as any other race. Object number one, win the race. Failing that, score as many points as possible. You know one race is not going to -- right now I don't feel one race is going to make or break this championship in that kind of way. I think you have to just keep your consistency going. Although it would be nice to win a race, I'm getting frustrated being at the podium and not being on the top step. I got a taste of it last year, and I kind of liked it. But as I said before, if you look the way we were last season, the amount of points we had last time, we are ahead of schedule.
Q. I asked you before if you felt like a championship contender. You pretty flatly said, no, I've got to earn that right. Do you feel like a championship contender? Have you earned it?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not yet. I think you have to -- I think at the start of the season there was so much hype going on and people saying this guy is going to win, and at the time it doesn't matter people talking. You have to earn the right to be the front. I think we're in the fight just now, but the important thing is to be in the fight or ahead of the game by the time we come to Fontana.
Q. I hope at the end of the season I can ask you that question again, and you can finally give me the answer that I want.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I hope so. Thank you.
Q. When it was all said and done, you got back to the compound, what did Paul Tracy say to you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Right now I haven't spoken to Paul about it. Paul's testing in Road America today, so as soon as he's out of the car, I'm going to call him. I can understand obviously Paul was running very well in the race, I was running very well, I think the thing we're both feeling is first of all Paul is going to be very disappointed, but I feel sorry for the guys on the team, because I think it was a real chance for us both to be on the podium together, which is something we've talked about for a long time. But once I've spoken to Paul, we'll sort the problem out.
Q. The bump in turn 3, cause the upset of the handling of the car?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: We were running very close, and Paul wasn't giving me much space on the outside, and I was against the white line and he was trying to keep up with the gray, and we were running so close, the bump in turn 3, either makes the car understeer or oversteer, and it's quite a violent change. And basically I got understeer, just at the point that Paul was coming down to try to get out of the gray. And we touched. So that was one of the big -- that was one of the big things -- that was the real -- I think we were running very close, but I think one of the big factors in our accident was the bump in turn 3.
Q. Was that bump discussed in the driver's meeting?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: We discussed it when we tested there, straight after Milwaukee. We had talked about it, after Nazareth we talked about it. And we said there's a huge bump there. Are you going to change it? They came out and said probably, but they didn't do anything about it. So that was unfortunate. The end of the day it was a racing incident, two very aggressive drivers going for one corner, and there's always going to be two sides, two opinions to everything. When you're in the car you have to make decisions in a split second, and sometimes one guy makes a decision one way, and one guy makes a decision the other, and that's when you have a racing accident.
Q. Not in any way did I mean it was your fault. It's just, as they say, one of them racing accidents or racing problems.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: For sure. But it's just so unfortunate, because we have a good relationship and we work well together, and it's not the thing I want to happen. And I'm for sure Paul doesn't want it to happen, what happened at the weekend. We'll sort the problem out. We have a very good relationship in that way.
Q. I actually drove over that bump with my speed car, not necessarily the speed you fellows were going, and it surprised me. I could not believe.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's a big bump. I think I might require some dental work after that race because it really does crunch you in the seat and the car kind of takes off a bit. Hopefully next season they'll have the problem sorted out.
Q. I think it will be rectified before some people come here with doors and roofs.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It sometimes happens that way.
Q. You're getting off what has been mostly a majority oval series. You're going to start getting on some road courses. Since you are so much closer in the points and so much closer to the top, do you see this as a chance that we can make some big strides, get forward and start taking control of this?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Well, only time will tell exactly what happens. But I'm very pleased with the performance so far, with the consistency of the performance and the amount of points we amassed. Japan was a blip on the scale when I tried too hard. We're pretty close. We're coming into the part of the season I like, the road courses. We're particularly strong in those last year. It's not to say we're going to be strong this year, but I hope we do. I feel the car is good on the road courses, but sometimes luck has a little bit to do with it. We're going to keep pushing, trying to win as many points and races as possible. And hopefully by the time we come to Fontana, we're going to be in contention or have the job done.
Q. Getting back to the small wings, do you will feel that part of it might be just that the cars are just so close, that the wings just take maybe any chance of getting to pass somebody, especially on the smaller ovals like Nazareth, because the cars are so evenly matched?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think we're a victim of our success in the CART series, because we physically couldn't pass because we were so close. Juan and myself running times half a tenth of a second apart consistently. You don't have enough of an advantage to pass somebody, so that's probably what's happening right now. Whether it be the small or the big lanes, the series is so close. Pit strategy, qualifying, it's incredibly tight at the moment.
Q. What do you feel the difference is in this series? You've got the same chassis engine, tire manufacturer as Ganassi, as well as a few other teams, but what do you think the difference is this year? You've been right up there every race, but Juan Montoya and Ganassi seem to have a little bit on you each race. Do you think that the team, a little bit coming from you, or you think it's a little luck you haven't had?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Homestead didn't have anything. I think St. Louis, they were pushing pretty hard, again, but there's times this year they've done a fantastic job, and times they got it wrong. There's a times KOOL Green has got it right and times we've done it wrong. I think we're pretty close. For somebody to win three races in a row, it's a pretty big achievement. But our job is to stop them from winning anymore. And that's going to mean doing everything right. And the Firestone and Honda package, we definitely have the package to win, and I think that package is going to come into its own in the road course and street course season.
Q. I'm not sure if you have any other knowledge of the way the other engines perform just by watching or driving, but with the Honda engine, especially, do you feel that the drivability of the engine is the big factor. Because of the difficulty in passing, it seems you're all coming down the straight at about the same speed.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think Honda have managed to get a lot of things right with the engine, not only drivability, but horsepower, torque, everything right through the range, and I think for an engine to be so successful as this one has been, they have to get everything right. But at the same time the guys back in Japan and back in California, they are working every day of the week trying to increase the performance of the engine. And it's a constant battle against the other manufacturers, and I think right now we're doing well on that.
Q. One final thing is I don't really expect the answer, because you probably don't even know, but do you think the fact that Honda has signed with British American Racing, you in a Honda might have an a chance to drive with them in the future?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's not really something to talk about in the moment. Right now I'm interested in getting the most out of what I've got with the Team KOOL Green, winning a championship for these guys. We've got a job to do and I don't think -- I'm trying not to let anything interfere with that at the moment.
Q. Tires: Michael didn't put new tires on, on that last pit stop while other people did, it didn't seem to affect him. Are they really that good?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: They are. I tell you, Firestone has done a fantastic job, and I think that shows by the majority of the field running on their product at the moment. But in St. Louis, at Rio, at Nazareth, they've just produced a tire that you can just attack the course the whole time, and with an amazing amount of grip and not actually have any signs of wear, really. I don't know how they're doing it, but they're doing a great job. And every time they're doing the tire testing they're coming up with something better. To answer your question, they're doing a wonderful job.
Q. I guess on that, do you think we might see teams on that final pit stop sort of just doing a splash and go, and get you back in the field quicker and forgetting the tires a bit more often?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Depends on the nature of a track, really, that's not a question you can answer in a general way, you have to be very specific with which track you're on and which situation you're in.
Q. And just stepping ahead, there, going to Portland, have you been testing there?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: We tested at Portland, did a couple of days up there.
Q. There's a couple of small changes there, does that affect the course at all?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Turn 1 has changed a little bit. Yeah, turn 1 is definitely quicker now, going in there and into the chicane, what we call the Festival, other than that I didn't notice any other changes.
Q. I have a question regarding the comments on the wheel tethers, did they make any difference to your performance?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think when they were on the car they didn't make any difference to the performance. Really they're only there if you want to hit something. I haven't watched a video of the race to see if they did work, but I guess the people who did hit the wall, the wheels hung on there, which is what they're designed for.
Q. Dario, I'd like to ask what previous dealings have you had with Juan Montoya in your career? Have you raced together before?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: The first time I met Juan was in the winter of '93 when he tested the car that I had on won the formula Vauxhall Championship with that year, and I remember that situation because something went wrong and the car came back to the pits in the back of a truck looking very bad, I wasn't too happy with him, this car was my pride and joy, and I won the championship with it. There was a problem with the brakes or something and the car ended up looking like -- it was in a pretty bad way.
Q. Almost unrecognizable?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It was fairly unrecognizable. I raced against Juan, he was any teammate in the turn car series for one race, we had a particularly colorful start, in the second race, we pushed a door bang, side by side, and did quite a bit of damage to the cars we were driving, but we both continued. It was one of those situations he wasn't going to move and I wasn't going to move, so we got into it for about half a lap. And it was a good race.
Q. Do you expect more of the same in the coming weeks and months?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I think to door bang in a turn car is maybe acceptable, but not acceptable in a champ car, we're going to have some close races this year, we're going to have some fun. And I think the thing is I like Juan, and I have a good laugh at the track, and it's a situation he knows I want to beat him, and he wants to beat me, but at the same time we get along well. But when we get out and race it's going to be no holds barred, but it will be done in a good way.
T.E. McHALE: We want to thank you for being with us this afternoon, Dario, wish you the best in the upcoming Championship Series.
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