Franchitti wins second title
11 October 2009
Dario Franchitti clinched a second IndyCar Series title after a bold fuel strategy played out in his favour after a three-way championship showdown with Target Chip Ganassi team-mate Scott Dixon and Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe.
Despite claiming the pole for the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale, the Scot ran third for much of the 200-lap distance, allowing Dixon and Briscoe to duel for the lead - and the two bonus points that came for heading most laps.
In the end, however, the antipodeans' scrap counted for nothing as Franchitti's superior fuel management ability saw him run crucially longer than his rivals on every stint of the yellow-free race, and escape the need for a 'splash-and-dash' in the closing stages of the 300-mile event.
When, first, Dixon and then Briscoe peeled off in the final ten laps, Franchitti was able to remain on track and, despite running a reduced pace, was able to come home comfortably ahead of both, claiming a second title in his first season back from a frustrating sojourn in NASCAR.
Briscoe finished second on the road, with Dixon third, as the three title contenders came home as the only runners on the lead lap. The victory was Franchitti's fifth of the season, and he managed a victory burn-out on the home straight before finally running out of fuel. He dedicated the win to the late Greg Moore, who perished while Franchitti was chasing the CART title ten years ago this month.
Luczo Dragon's Raphael Matos did enough to claim the Rookie of the Year crown in his head-to-head with Team HVM's Robert Doornbos, although series returnee Alex Lloyd claimed the highest finish by a rookie in the race, coming home eighth overall.
"I'm very happy, it couldn't be better," Matos admitted, "I think this title means a lot to me and a lot to the team. There's a lot of famous names in the Rookie of the Year gallery and I dreamed about [joining them]. I think this shows that we are ready for bigger and better things in the series."
The top three finishers were the only drivers who entered the season-ending race with a chance to win the title on the 1.5-mile oval. Franchitti finished the season with 616 points, Dixon with 605 and Briscoe with 604. It was the second consecutive title for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, as Dixon won in 2008, and the second in three years for Franchitti, who claimed his first championship in 2007 with Andretti Green Racing. The three title contenders led 198 of the 200 laps in the finale, such was their dominance.
After polesitter Franchitti had led the opening exchanges, Briscoe and Dixon contented themselves with sharing the pacesetting as they adopted a sprint mentality to Franchitti's slow-but-sure approach. Briscoe took the lead on lap 151, with Dixon in close pursuit, when Franchitti entered the pits for the final time six laps after his rivals had been forced to stop on lap 144.
Briscoe and Dixon then pulled away from the Scot over the next 35 laps, with Australian leading New Zealander by 0.1850secs on lap 187. Franchitti was the only other car on the lead lap, but was by now some 23.8841secs behind Briscoe.
However, both frontrunners were forced to pit for fuel in the last eight laps - Dixon on lap 192 and Briscoe on lap 194 - while Franchitti was able to stretch his fuel over the last 50 laps for his fifth victory of the season, a career best. His average speed was 201.420mph, the second-fastest race in series history, as IndyCar enjoyed its first ever caution-free race.
"I can't believe it," Franchitti, who becomes only the third driver to win multiple IRL-sanctioned championships after Dixon and Sam Hornish Jr, admitted, "Like 2007, I just had to try to save some fuel and stay on strategy - and it just worked out.
"The Target car wasn't great early that first stint, but [crew chief] Chris [Simmons] and the boys made some changes. From the second stint on, we were right there, but we had lost so much ground. We were saving fuel, sticking to our strategy, and the car was really good at the end.
"A win is a win but, on the cool-down lap, I was thinking of my buddy Greg. I was in a championship fight ten years ago, but it didn't matter because we lost him. This one is for him. It's been a hell of a year for the Target boys - and I've got to thank Chip [Ganassi] for giving me a job."
It's the third time in series history that team-mates have finished 1-2 in the series standings, after AGR twice achieved the feat, in 2004 and '05. The margin between Franchitti and Dixon, at eleven points, was the third-closest margin, while twelve points separating the top three finishers is similarly close.
"At the start of the race, I didn't think it would be wise to go out and burn a lot of fuel - it ended being the fact and coming true," Dixon sighed, "You just have to take it on the chin and come back and try again next year. At the end of the year, you'd think the fastest car is going to win but, several times, it hasn't been. I think Briscoe and I had a pretty good race going on, but we got what we got."
"It's pretty frustrating," Briscoe echoed, "It was one of the best races I've ever run, and I just hate that it came down to fuel strategy. It's a whole championship. Dario has been great all year long, so congrats to him, but it's hurts. I thought it was going to be between me and Scott, definitely, but I guess the #10 car had the advantage."
Almost unnoticed, Tony Kanaan came through to claim fourth place, ahead of Helio Castroneves, Hideki Mutoh, Mario Moraes, leading rookie Lloyd, Tomas Scheckter and Justin Wilson.
"It was a long race, and it looks like those three guys were in another league," Kanaan said of the championship contenders, "We did what we could, the car was okay, but it was just not fast enough, so I guess we'll take the fourth place. After the season that we had, to finish up with a top four, it is what it is."