Exhibition Place in Toronto rekindles memories for Dario Franchitti, good and bad. There were the pole starts in 1997 and '98 that didn't end up so well, but 1999 was something different.
The eleventh race of the PPG/CART season, a mid-July afternoon with a sizable crowd watching the competitors on the tight turns and long straights of the temporary street circuit. Franchitti picked up his first victory in the Canadian city - and fourth overall on the season - with Team KOOL Green to creep up to Juan Pablo Montoya in the championship standings.
Ten years on, almost to the day, and Franchitti again visited Victory Circle in Toronto by virtue of holding off Ryan Briscoe and Will Power for his third victory of the 2009 IndyCar Series season. The victory - and three bonus points for winning the PEAK Performance Pole Award and leading the most laps on the 1.755-mile course - were enough for Franchitti to regain the lead of the championship after ten of 17 races.
Much like leaving Toronto in '99, the Scot finds himself in a tight title race, and once more with a Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver. This time, however, the battle is given extra spice by the fact that that rival is now also team-mate. Reigning champion, and the man denied on the last turn of Franchitti's successful 2007 campaign, Scott Dixon is currently three points arrears, while Penske's Briscoe is now 13 back. Helio Castroneves remains fourth, though a DNF because of a collision with Paul Tracy late in the race didn't do the Brazilian any favours, especially as Andretti Green Racing's Danica Patrick remained steady, advancing twelve positions to finish sixth and remain fifth - closer to HCN - in the standings.
In 2007, Franchitti held a 47-point lead through ten races but had to finish ahead of Dixon in the final round to claim the championship, and the Scot is all too aware that he doesn't have that cushion this year as the series heads to the 1.96-mile airport course hosting the Rexall Edmonton Indy on 26 July. Dixon won there last year and Castroneves was second, while Briscoe, who started on the pole and finished sixth at Edmonton in 2008, has five runner-up finishes in the past six races of 2009.
"I don't think there's a better thing than to be fighting for the championship than with your team-mate," Franchitti insisted, "You're in the same equipment and, one week, Scott is going to be better than me, I'm going to be better than him. We'll just go out there, we'll have fun, we'll go racing and we'll try and beat each other."
It's a similar scenario to '07 - and even 1999, when he left Toronto with title aspirations within reach. On that occasion, Franchitti wound up tying Montoya in points, but lost on the first tie-breaker, courtesy of the Colombian's seven victories to his three, and has resolved to avoid on-track landmines and see what transpires.
"Everybody makes mistakes; everybody also gets caught up in other people's problems," Franchitti said, "Last week in Watkins Glen, I got caught up trying to avoid two cars crashing in the Bus Stop and it put me in the gravel, destroyed my race. These things happen when you're at a race.
"It's about risk, and how much risk do you want to take. There were a couple instances [in the Toronto race] where I felt, if I'd have taken a bigger risk, there was a good chance I was going to end up with a bent race car, so I wasn't prepared to take that because we've got to finish, we've got to keep finishing."