Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011:
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Target Chip Ganassi Racing
readers have selected Dario Franchitti as your 2011 IndyCar Driver of the Year! It's surely fitting that the great Scot should take the top spot just as he also clinches his fourth IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
And it could scarcely have been against harder competition that the battle put up by Will Power. If a sportsman is measured by the quality of the rivals he has to overcome in order to triumph, then the fact that Franchitti managed to overcome a driver like Power who at times was utterly dominating the races speaks volumes in itself.
Not that Dario's season statistics are too shabby in their own right, of course. He claimed four wins to Power's six (St Petersburg, Texas 1, Milwaukee and Toronto) and was on pole twice to Power's astonishing haul of eight. But his secret was in the consistency of top runs - he finished in the top ten on 15 occasions out of 16 finishes, his only retirement coming at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after contact with Takuma Sato.
Sato apologised for the collision, but TV replays suggested that the collision had been at least as much to do with Franchitti move down the track. If so, it wouldn't have been the only self-inflicted mistake Dario made during the year: he spun Will Power while the two were battling over position at Toronto, and then ran into Ryan Briscoe at Motegi which also caught out his Ganassi team mates Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball.
If these were signs of the pressure Franchitti was feeling under, then so to were his unusually sharp and strident comments about other drivers (a particular dig against Helio Castroneves's driving early in the season), his own team (Ganassi's odd fuel strategy blunders at Indianapolis both qualifying and the race) and organisers (over the blind draw that set the starting positions for Texas 2, which handed him his worst-ever series starting position of 28th through no fault of his own.) The smoother, more polished Franchitti was restored later in the season, but the difference in his demeanour had been striking while it lasted.
But none of this distracted from what he needed to do to win his fourth championship, tying him with the likes of Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr. and Sebastien Bourdais. Dario kept his eyes focused on the job in hand, and executed it even when adversity loomed. It shows that he is very much still at the top of his game and with the confidence to match - and no reason to think he wont be just the same in 2012.
Top 10 IndyCar Driver of the Year 2011 results: 2nd-10th
2. Will Power
3. Tony Kanaan
4. Scott Dixon
5. Oriol Servia
6. Ryan Briscoe
7. James Hinchcliffe
8. Graham Rahal
9. Ed Carpenter
10. JR Hildebrand