When Dallara Automobili boldly ventured to North America to compete as an INDYCAR chassis supplier, little was known about the company from a tiny Italian village. Twenty-one years later, Dallara is an integral part of the Verizon IndyCar Series and about to reach a milestone achievement.
When the checkered flag waves Sunday at the Grand Prix of Portland, Dallara will collect its 300th race win since making its series debut in 1997. Heading into the race, 44 different drivers from 19 teams have ridden to victory lane 299 times in Dallara-produced Indy cars.
For Stefano de Ponti, director of U.S. operations for Dallara Automobili S.p.A, it has been an amazing journey.
“For us back 21 years ago, we didn’t have an idea about motor racing in the United States, especially on the ovals,” de Ponti said. “We had such a great opportunity to be involved. We came here very, very humbled. It was like pursuing our American dreams. We didn’t know anything about it, we had to learn.
“That was a completely great experience working with the series, together with the teams. Slowly, we matured this experience that we’ve got now. We’ve been very blessed for the achievement that we were able to accomplish.”
In the beginning, Dallara went up against with other INDYCAR chassis manufacturers including G-Force, Riley & Scott and Panoz. Outlasting the competition, Dallara became the Verizon IndyCar Series’ sole chassis supplier in 2007, an honor the company retains today.
It’s also a sizable responsibility to constantly design and produce chassis and parts to increase performance and safety. Dallara works hand in hand with INDYCAR and the teams in that effort.
“It is a continuous evolution, not only in performance but most important for safety,” de Ponti said.
It was with that in mind that Dallara built and opened in 2012 its American headquarters in Speedway, Indiana, in the shadow of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. De Ponti, who is based in Speedway, said it was crucial to be in the heart of the INDYCAR community.
“It is fundamental not only for the legacy that the town of Speedway has linked to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for what the racetrack represents, but the links to be very, very close to INDYCAR, with the teams, which most of them are based in Indiana,” he said. “It gave us an advantage to be more efficient, to be more supportive of our customers, our teams, in the way we design and the way we manufacture parts.”
In addition to the chassis itself, Dallara reassumed the responsibility this year of producing the universal aerodynamic bodywork kit used by all competitors, following three years of aero kit development and competition between Chevrolet and Honda. The 2018 car has received rave reviews from competitors and fans alike for bringing back more competitive racing throughout the field and making driver skill a more important part of the equation. Numerous safety improvements were also built into the new aero kit that have been proven successful when needed this year.
“Safety is obviously a priority for Dallara when we design our products,” de Ponti said. “It must be done, keeping in considerations all the work that was done in the past with the series, and projecting in the future with all the experience that we acquire to design new, safer products.”
Jim Guthrie captured Dallara’s first INDYCAR win, at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix in March 1997 – in just the second race for the manufacturer. Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing has the most victories in a Dallara (38), followed by Team Penske’s Will Power (32) and Helio Castroneves (24). Not surprisingly, Team Penske has the most wins (94), followed by Andretti Autosport (61) and Chip Ganassi Racing (59).
While every success is cherished, like most everyone else involved in Indy car racing, there is one race that carries the most meaning.
“The Indianapolis 500 remains the greatest, spectacular race in the world,” said de Ponti, whose cars have claimed 18 wins at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Giampaolo Dallara, the founder of the namesake company in 1972 and still president, summed up best the feeling from the home base in Varano de’ Melegari, Italy, on the upcoming milestone win.
“When in ’97 our car began to race in INDYCAR, at the time, I could not even imagine to win 300 races in these years,” Dallara said. “This is an unbelievable result and I have to thank my collaborators – the teams, the drivers, INDYCAR – that believed in us.
“At the beginning, we were supplier of the cars. Now we feel (like) partners. And now we are very proud to contribute to the improvement of the safety of the cars.”