Season Preview: INDYCAR
Before Dario Franchitti went out and won the PEAK Performance Pole Award for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ 2010 championship-deciding race, team owner Chip Ganassi asserted that Franchitti should be considered among the best of all-time.
A day later -- with a record-tying three IZOD IndyCar Series championships, two Indianapolis 500 victories and 26 Indy car career wins – Ganassi’s statement requires deeper consideration. During the season, Franchitti tied Rodger Ward for 11th on the all-time list. Next in his sights is Johnny Rutherford (27), and matching Rick Mears (29) isn’t out of the question.
Franchitti, who has come from behind to clinch each of his championships in the final race, says the fire is kindled by the success and “the fun I’m having (competing) in the series.” But the self-effacing Scot won’t be drawn into discussions of his current or projected place among the greatest names.
“Look back to the start of 2007. I hadn’t won a championship,” Franchitti said. “I won a lot of races not a championship or Indy 500. Now we find ourselves with two ‘500s’ and three championships. I'm just going to enjoy it. I think I'm just going to let it sink in, enjoy it. I’m very proud of the achievement.”
Franchitti totaled three victories in 2010 (to chief competitor Will Power’s five), and it was the consistency throughout the 17-race season on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports that again sealed the deal.
Franchitti will receive another strong challenge for the 2011 title from established drivers including:
The Verizon Team Penske driver set a series record with eight pole starts and won five races – all on road/street courses, including the first two of the season. Power posted a career-best third on an oval at Twin Ring Motegi and was strong again in the finale at Homestead.
Overall, Power recorded 13 top-10 finishes, led 14 races and was running at the finish in 16 of the 17 events. Such consistency will make him a title favorite in 2011.
The two-time series champion for Target Chip Ganassi Racing is Franchitti’s teammate, but there’s no giving way on the racetrack. Dixon posted three victories (two on 1.5-mile ovals), 15 top-10 finishes and led nine races to finish third in the championship. He considered it a poor season.
Dixon set a series record of 45 races starting in the top 10, and it’s his ability to get the most out of the No. 9 car on the wide variety of circuits from the outset that make him a contender every race.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 champion with team Penske was overtaken by Dixon for third in the championship in the season finale. He’ll remember that in 2011.
Castroneves managed three victories, including back-to-back at Kentucky and Twin Ring Motegi, in a season in which he was in contention almost every race (15 top-10 finishes). He was the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the first six races, and became the series’ career lap leader during the season. He also started in the top 10 in each of the 17 races.
Briscoe was second in the 2009 championship to Franchitti – in another title chase that went down to the season finale. In 2010, the Team Penske driver slipped to fifth in the standings.
He had one victory and three pole starts, but contact at Indianapolis and Kentucky stripped away valuable points. Briscoe had 12 top-10 finishes in the 15 races he was running at the finish, which should be encouragement to again challenge for the title in 2011.
After eight seasons with Michael Andretti’s team, Kanaan moved during the off-season to de Ferran Dragon Racing – led by former Indy 500 champion and longtime friend Gil de Ferran. They expect the partnership to yield immediate results.
Kanaan won at Iowa in 2010, ending a two-year drought, and had 13 top-10 finishes in total. He completed all but one lap during the season, showing the consistency and determination that led to his 2004 series championship. He improved his starting position in 12 of the 17 races.
A runner-up finish in the season finale at Homestead gave Patrick something to hang her hat on in 2010. She also finished second at Texas in June.
Patrick slipped from fifth in 2009 to 10th in the standings in the fourth season driving for Andretti Autosport, scoring eight top-10 finishes. She did set a series record with 33 consecutive races running at the finish. Taking that ability to avoid misfortune and adding consistent top-five finishes will again put Patrick in championship contention.