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Dario downcast after Indy flop

4 June 2011

Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti was still struggling to come to terms with how this year's race fell apart for him in the final stages.

"Today I stayed in the bus all day, ruminating over [the race]," said the 2007 and 2010 Indy 500 champion.

Having looked set to win a third time for much of the centennial race after appearing to overturn an early advantage held by his Ganassi team mate Scott Dixon, Franchitti was unable to make his final fuel load stretch and ended up falling well off the pace, finally slumping to a very disappointing 12th place by the chequered flag.

"This is such an important race, and if you look - I mean, we led over half the race, between Dix and I, and we tried splitting strategies and we both ended up not getting it," he told reporters at this week's Victory Banquet that he was attending with his wife, film star Ashley Judd.

"I thought our Target car was as good as anything out there today. The engineers made good calls fixing the balance of the car. The mechanics, the pit stops were fantastic. And we're leading the race, and we came in to do that stop. But I don't know. I don't understand right now. They're going to have to explain that one to me.

"You know, I had an interesting conversation with [AJ] Foyt before the race, we were just sitting in the green room, him and I in the corner, and he said, you know - he was telling me how he'd won it four times, but he probably should have won it more and some of the four he'd won, he shouldn't have won those ... When it's your day, it's your day," he continued. "And when it's not your day there's nothing you can do about it. And it was so - that struck me about lap 199."

Franchitti did at least get to join up with the winners' celebrations on Sunday night after Dan Wheldon's famous last-corner victory in the Bryan Herta Autosport underdog car.

"I had fun last night," he said, his spirits briefly lifting. "We went out and we celebrated with Dan and Bryan, and all my Scottish buddies, and Dix and those boys, so we had fun last night."

There's a strong bond between the "Four Musketeers" - Franchitti, Wheldon, Herta and Tony Kanaan - forged back in 2005 when they were the driver line-up for the the then-dominant Andretti-Green Racing team. "We had a lot of fun together on and off the track," agreed Bryan Herta of those days. "We had an opportunity, the four of us got together for dinner about a week ago. Literally we laughed till our sides hurt just reminiscing about those times. So there was a bond that formed between the four of us during those years that will never change."

Being able to share in his friends' success on Sunday night was a help, but it only goes so far in getting Dario through the disappointment of the 2011 Indy 500.

"But, uh, yeah - tough one to get over," agreed Dario. Even the idea that there was still the 2011 IndyCar championship still to fight over seemed unable to cheer him. "Yeah, they were talking about that yesterday, and it's not much consolation, really. This is such an important race.

"There will be [other Indy 500s]," Dario agreed as he departed for the Victory Banquet. But it was clear that this loss had hurt more than usual: rarely has a team gone in to an Indy 500 as such runaway favourites, only to come out with so little reward.

If Dario didn't win, then Ganassi really should have still have triumphed with a different strategy for Scott Dixon - but that attempt inexplicably faltered too.

"We misjudged on our last pit stop and didn't get the last couple of gallons of fuel in the car. It cost us the race, and that's frustrating," Dixon wrote in a column for the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel Online. "It was simply a bad call. We were trying to stay ahead of Dan at the time, so the decision was made to save a couple of seconds by not completing the fueling.

"We ended up a few gallons short, so I had to back off at the end to save fuel. We ended up finishing fifth. If we'd had a full load of fuel, we could have contended for the victory ... The thing that really bothered me about it was that Dan wasn't really close at the time."

Despite his own disappointment, Dixon can also take some happiness in Dan Wheldon's eventual win, the two of them having been team mates together at Ganassi for three years between 2006 and 2008 - the last of those being a three-wide line-up with Dario.

"I was happy to see my former teammate, Dan Wheldon, win in a storybook finish. If Dario or I couldn't win, then I was happy to see Dan get his second 500," Dixon write. "It was such a great story, from what he's been through recently to doing it as a one-off with a start-up team and winning in such a dramatic way. Seeing Dan win took the edge off a bit."

Speaking about the unique nature of the Indy 500 event, Dixon said: "It's such a strange and challenging place. And I can't wait to get back next year."


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