Autos: Indy 500 looks like a two-team race
By Jim Peltz
Los Angeles Times
INDIANAPOLIS — Dario Franchitti not only is among the top drivers in the Izod IndyCar Series, he's an avid student of motor racing's history and heritage.
So Franchitti is keenly aware that rival Helio Castroneves of Team Penske would make history Sunday by becoming only the fourth driver to win a fourth Indianapolis 500, and Franchitti is just as focused on trying to make sure it doesn't happen.
"As far as I'm concerned Helio can wait until I'm retired" to win another race, Franchitti, 37, said with a smile after topping the speed charts in final practice Friday.
Franchitti instead wants to win his second Indy 500 and thus enable his team owner, Chip Ganassi, to become the first owner to win the Indy 500 and NASCAR's Daytona 500 in the same year. Jamie McMurray of Ganassi's NASCAR team won in Daytona in February.
Ganassi has a strong chance. Franchitti and his teammate, former Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, are perennial favorites to win the Indy 500 and they've been fast this May as usual.
But so is the team owned by Roger Penske, who has an unprecedented 15 Indy 500 victories, and his drivers are Castroneves, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe.
"We don't just want to beat one car or team, we want to beat everybody, but I think in order to win this thing you're going to have to go through ... you're going to have to pass the Penske team at some point," Franchitti said. "As long as I've been watching this sport, the Penske team has been the one to beat."
That seems true again this year. Castroneves won the pole position for Sunday's race and Power was second-fastest in qualifying. Franchitti qualified third and starts on the outside of the front row.
Franchitti's car was fast again Friday in the final one-hour practice known as "Carb Day," a throwback term to the days when engines still had carburetors and underwent their final pre-race tuning.
With his wife, actress Ashley Judd, looking on, Franchitti turned the fastest lap in practice at 225.574 mph on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, followed by Dixon at 225.159 mph. They were the only drivers to surpass the 225-mph mark. Castroneves was fifth.
Before practice, Penske and Ganassi talked about their rivalry and Ganassi's bid to make history with wins at Indianapolis and Daytona in the same year.
"I don't look at it in terms of winning the two races in one year," Ganassi said. "It would be a huge thing, but right now my focus is ... to beat this guy next to me," he said in reference to Penske.
Penske returned the compliment, saying "the guy sitting next to me is the one that we have to beat every weekend, whether it's here at Indianapolis or certainly at Daytona or Charlotte," with Charlotte being the site of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup race that also will be held Sunday.
Franchitti (pronounced fran-KEE-tee) tried his hand at NASCAR racing for Ganassi in 2008 after he won the Indy 500, but it was a brief, disappointing change. A Scottish driver of Italian descent, Franchitti broke his ankle early in the season and then Ganassi shut down the team for lack of sponsorship.
So Franchitti returned to IndyCar racing with a vengeance, winning five races with Ganassi and his second series championship last year.
Regardless of how fast he has been running, Franchitti said he knows Castroneves, Power and Briscoe will be tough. "I have a massive amount of respect for Roger Penske, as I do for Chip, obviously," Franchitti said. "If we can get one over on those guys it's great because you've know you've beaten the best."
A dose of luck wouldn't hurt, either. "We've seen time and time again the fastest car doesn't win here," Ganassi said. "You've got to get in and out of the pits, you've got to have good restarts. You have to have a clean run."
Indeed, Franchitti said he and Dixon "were the class of the field" in last year's Indy 500 but neither won because of mishaps in the pits. "We'd like to remind them this Sunday" of that speed, he said, "and try to finish the job."