Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti enters his second season as an adviser with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams – three-time series champion Scott Dixon, 2004 champion Tony Kanaan, race winner Charlie Kimball and a soon-to-be-named driver – after retiring from competitive auto racing.
In fact, Franchitti joined the team in Avondale, La., earlier this week as the three drivers, plus 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam, tested at NOLA Motorsports Park, which will host the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana on April 12.
Franchitti took a few minutes to provide updates and projections:
Q. Did you enjoy your role as an adviser with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams last year?
“I really enjoyed the fact that I was back working with the Ganassi guys; I had worked with them since the end of 2008. I was still involved in the process of trying to win races. It was not behind the wheel obviously, but occasionally with the engineering guys and maybe more so with the drivers just bits of advice here and there. Sometimes it was more intense as far as trying to fix a problem that one particular driver had or sometimes it was just a word of, ‘Have you thought about this?’ I got a lot of satisfaction out of it if I was able to contribute to one of the guys improving. I’m looking forward to this year as well.
“It was fantastic to see (the team come on toward the end of the 2014 season), but we didn’t do a good job to give them good cars in the first half of the season at all. They all stuck with it. Tony’s supposed weak spot of qualifying, he really worked so hard to fix it. And he did with some fantastic qualifying. Toronto especially sticks out in my mind. Scott does his usual amazing job. Charlie is still coming on. The three wins toward the end of the season were real high points.”
Q. How do you see the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver championship playing out?
“I think it will again be an intense championship battle. You look at the Ganassi stable and the strength of those guys. As a team, we need to start the season stronger than we have the past couple of years, which I think we’re very capable of doing. The Penske guys with (Simon) Pagenaud added and (Juan Pablo) Montoya in his second year will be very strong as well. (Will) Power as the returning champion and I thought Helio (Castroneves) had a very strong season. (James) Hinchcliffe with Schmidt (Peterson Motorsports), the Andretti boys are very strong. That’s just to name a few.
“You had those years when you said, ‘So and so can challenge for a win.’ Now there isn’t anybody in the field that can’t win a race. It’s pretty daunting for all concerned. If you make a mistake it’s not that you’re not going to make the top 10. If you make a mistake now you’re going to be finishing 20th or something. It’s a lot of pressure and will be good to watch.”
Q. First-year drivers will have a lot to digest. How steep is that learning curve?
“As a young driver, it’s always difficult. My first year with Hogan I was really learning and I made a lot of mistakes. I think that can be frustrating for a team. The guys coming up from Indy Lights and GP2, you need that mix of experience – stars of the sport – and you have others who get the opportunity to challenge them. I think we’re getting a good mix.”
Q. As a complement to engine manufacturer competition, what are your projections for the new aero bodywork kits for 2015?
“For the fans I hope it will give some visual difference between the manufacturers. I don’t know if it will because ultimately there are smart people working on both, and the more time they spend on it – the closer that everybody gets to what you call perfection – a lot of Formula One cars have complete freedom there but if you painted them white you couldn’t tell the difference. I hope it doesn’t spoil the racing; the racing has been fantastic with this new car.
“It will be exciting to see how fast they go, whether that’s at Indianapolis or on the road courses. It will put a lot more physical strain on the drivers. Barber is going to be – especially so early in the season you’re not generally race fit yet. You’ve worked all winter on your fitness, but there’s no fitness training like driving a race car. It’s going to be a very tough race. Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, too, those are very physical racetracks.”