Dario Franchitti has admitted that visiting Sunday's IndyCar Series event at Detroit's Belle Isle Raceway was the final element in his decision to return to open-wheel racing with the Target Chip Ganassi outfit next season.
Until he stood and watched the 25-car field tearing around the picturesque parkland street circuit, the Scot had only Ganassi's overtures, the lure of Indianapolis, an increased number of road courses and the thought of competing against the strongest US open-wheel field for years to entice him. BY the end of the day, he had decided to forsake his brief, but troubled, foray into NASCAR with Ganassi and return to the IRL.
"I went to Detroit over the weekend, talked to Chip about different options and watched my brother in the ALMS race," Franchitti said, all but confirming suggestions that the sportscar series may have been a viable alternative for 2009, "Then Chip put the offer in front of me."
The Scot admitted, as he had to television crews at Belle Isle, that more NASCAR also remained a possibility for next season, but several factors, not least the uncertainty over the financial viability of his Sprint Cup team, helped sway his attention back to the championship he won in 2007.
"Chip and I were talking about the #41 [Cup] car as a possibility, that was something that was part of the discussion," he revealed, insisting that he was unaware of the chain of events that saw Dan Wheldon ousted to make room for him, "But it didn't seem the best of the options. When Chip kind of laid this [IndyCar] option in front of me, and I could see the enthusiasm that he had, coupled with the enthusiasm I felt for the schedule going forward next year - I'd been at Detroit as well, and seeing the IndyCars run there, being reminded of what the cars are capable of - it all went into that decision.
"I'm not going to get into all the details, but [Ganassi's offer] wasn't a straight one or the other. We definitely talked about a possibility of me being in the #41 car, but there's not too many times you get that chance to come back [to IndyCars]. Like I say, I really got excited by the schedule next year.
"To be honest, it's completely surreal, a crazy situation right now. At this time last year, even before the NASCAR deal came up, I felt my head wouldn't be on the job in IndyCars in '08, and that's one of the reasons I didn't come back. Then I was lucky enough to get the opportunity with Chip in NASCAR. Do I feel I'm going to have my head in the game next year? Absolutely. Otherwise I wouldn't do it. I'm really looking forward to it."
The refreshed IRL calendar, which will be split almost equally between the series' traditional ovals and an influx of road and street course venues, was a key factor in Franchitti's decision to perform his U-turn, as was the thought of racing against drivers from Champ Car following this year's open-wheel unification.
"I'm very excited to be coming back to the IndyCar Series," he admitted, "I think the unified series is excellent news, and I think the schedule for next year was a big part of my decision - plus the chance to drive for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which is a great team. I have competed against the team, I guess, for ten or eleven years in open-wheel, and I know how difficult they are to beat, so I'm really looking forward to being a part of the team going forward, and having Scott [Dixon] as a team-mate."