28 October 2011
Franchitti looks to future with new DW12
Franchitti has also been supportive of IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who has borne the brunt of harsh criticism from people wanting someone to blame for Wheldon's death: "It's completely wrong to criticize Randy and finger-pointing isn't going to do anyone here any good at all," Franchitti asserted. "You cannot blame one person for this. Motor racing is not safe. We've known that since I started racing."
Franchitti also revealed that it had been Bernard's decision to abandon the race after Wheldon's fatal accident.
"Each person was very confused, and Randy, ultimately, he really as a leader did a good job and took the decision out of our hands," Franchitti told the AP. "He made absolutely the right choice," he added, strongly disagreeing with suggestions from some racing quarters that the event should have carried on regardless. "Especially when I got back in the car and I realised how emotional I was there, and I thought 'Absolutely right decision.' I think most of us couldn't drive because the tears, we couldn't see where we were going."
For now, the focus is on picking up Wheldon's work on testing and developing the new 2012 car and redoubling efforts to improve its safety provisions.
“We're at the beginning of a long development process. It will be a busy couple of months," said Franchitti, adding that Wheldon himself had been notoriously closed-mouthed about the work he'd done on the car during the summer. "He did a really good job of not telling us anything ... He was very secretive about what went on so he didn't give anyone an advantage. And a few of us tried to tap him for information!"
"We used to relax in the off-season, but now we have a new car and we have a lot of work to do," added Tony Kanaan, who will get his own chance to contribute to the DW12's development when he tests the chassis for Chevrolet at Sebring next week. "We're going to be testing a lot more than we used to and speaking about safety and things we need to change. I think we're actually going to be a lot busier now than we were during the season."
Kanaan - another of Wheldon's closest friends, and together with Franchitti one of the pallbearers at Wheldon's funeral last weekend - has also set aside questions about whether he will quit the sport after Wheldon's death, saying instead that "I will try to honour him as best I can on the racetrack.
"If it ever crossed my mind that it was too dangerous, I should go and do something else," Kanaan told CNN the day after the Vegas accident, adding that if Kanaan had announced his retirement and Wheldon were still alive "[Dan] would be the first guy to call my team owner to take my place."
The feeling is understandably not unanimous. Sam Schmidt, whose car Dan Wheldon was driving at Vegas, said that he was having to think seriously about his future in the sport as a team owner. "I'd by lying if I said I wasn't, but you've got to think about it," said Schmidt, who was himself left a quadriplegic by an off-season crash in IndyCar in 2000 and who was inspired by the example of Sir Frank Williams in F1 to rebuild his life as a team owner instead.
In the immediate aftermath of the accident on October 16, Davey Hamilton had been one of those to say that he might finally be done with racing. "It's time for me to rethink and I have some things up the pipeline. Do some team ownership maybe," he told television pit lane reporters at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after the accident, even before news of Wheldon's death emerged. "I have a great sponsor and we are going to re-evaluate."
But for most of the drivers and team members involved in IndyCar, it's simply too soon and the emotions too raw to be making long-term decisions about their own futures or that of motor racing - and that includes making hasty, drastic changes to the IndyCar Series.
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