Justin Wilson vividly remembers renewing acquaintances with Dario Franchitti at the annual McLaren BRDC (British Racing Drivers Club) Autosport Awards on-track test.
“He was a Mercedes DTM driver and he had some really flash Merc," Wilson said of the 1992 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner recognizing young up-and-coming drivers from the United Kingdom.
"Mercedes talked him into fitting his car with driving sensors (throttle, brakes) and the young drivers would drive that around the track and he would be in the passenger’s seat. I had just turned 17 and I had to get a ride and then I’m throwing his Merc around Silverstone track and he’s in the passenger’s seat hanging on.
"It was damp. It was good fun. He got quiet a few times. I would pitch it in, get it sideways and get back on the power. I think he was just hanging on. I had known Dario for years in go-karts. He was a few years old so he was always way ahead of me in karting terms. I knew of him, followed and watched him through junior open-wheel in England and DTM and I was impressed when he was racing in DTM, and then he came across when he started racing CART.
"I followed him and I’m a fan. I’ve always been impressed with the job he does."
Franchitti, 40, a four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, announced his retirement Nov. 14 from motorsports. He's tied with Mario Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais with four championships -- second to A.J. Foyt's seven.
“I think Dario’s been a great race driver, he’s a fine gentleman and he’s been a great asset to Indy car racing," said Foyt, who is first on the career Indy car win list with 67. "If the doctors tell him he should quit then he should listen to them. I’m the opposite and never would listen, but I probably would have been a lot better off if I did. But Dario’s won a lot of races and championships so he has a lot to be proud of. My hat’s off to him.”
Click it: Post a personal note that will be collected in a book and presented to Franchitti
Franchitti won the 500 Mile Race in 2007, 2010 and 2012 -- the first with then-Andretti Green Racing and the latter in a Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
"Over the years he has become more than a former driver, he is truly a great friend and will forever be a part of the Andretti racing family," Andretti Autosport said in a statement. "Dario captured his first championship and Indy 500 victory with us, and the team's strong history is much to Dario's credit. We'd like to congratulate him on a successful career and wish him the best as he transitions into the next stage of his life. We have no doubt that he will continue to make a great impact on the sport of racing, albeit from behind the pit wall."
Added Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles: "In over 100 years of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dario Franchitti stands in very exclusive company as just one of only ten drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 three or more times. Dario's competitive drive, coupled with his passion for and appreciation of the history of the Indianapolis 500 made him a fan favorite at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"But it is his willingness to invest time to promote our sport outside of the car, to mentor young drivers aspiring to drive at Indianapolis, and to interact with our fans that make him one of the all-time great champions and ambassadors of the Indianapolis 500. We will miss him competing every May, but we look forward to celebrating his accomplishments in the Indianapolis 500 for years to come."
Each one of Franchitti's starts since joining the IndyCar Series full time in 2003 were with Honda power.
"It has been said that life begins at 40, but exactly how does one follow this?" American Honda motorsports manager T.E. McHale said. "When you take a moment to realize that Dario Franchitti won more races for Honda than any driver in the history of American open-wheel racing -- in a fraternity which includes the likes of Alex Zanardi, Gil de Ferran, Paul Tracy, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and reigning INDYCAR champion Scott Dixon -- you begin to come to some small understanding of what he has meant to American Honda and its racing program.
"Every one of Dario's 31 Indy car victories, 33 Indy car poles, three Indianapolis 500 victories and four Indy car championships was recorded with Honda power. Still, as monumental as those achievements may be, they tell no more than half of the story. Over 16 seasons of driving for Honda, Dario was an exemplary ambassador for the brand; I dare say he made scores of friends here of which he isn't even aware. We salute him for his many accomplishments, pay tribute to him as a true legend of this sport, and wish him every good thing imaginable as he moves into life's next act."