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CHAMP CAR NEWS 

Franchitti column

Autosport.com columnist Dario Franchitti finished fourth in Detroit, while most of the other CART FedEX World Series championship contenders failed to score. But, as he tells us in this week's column, it could have been better, and it could have been worse…


Well, there's two ways of looking at the Detroit race. On one hand it was disappointing because we had a good car, and were well placed for a potential win when the front brake duct broke. On the other hand fourth place isn't so bad in the circumstances, and I've closed up on the championship lead as well. After all, I could have ended up in the wall!

I must say that Detroit is a welcome stop on the schedule. We have had a good car for the last few races but we just haven't had the kind of results we'd like. Having won there last year, it's a track I like. It also signals the start of the 'road course' section of the series.

The circuit suits me just fine. Although there's only one really good place to pass, (turn 3), I like the combination of slow and fast corners and the way it really emphasises driver skill. You have to be on top of it at all times, anticipating traffic and working your race strategy.

Friday was good. I ended up fifth, but the times were so close that if I had been just 0.06 faster I'd have been second! It was incredible. Helio had set a 1m14.310s, and Juan who was sixth did a 1m14.396. It shows how hard this series can be. The first day at a street circuit isn't really representative as the track just gets faster and faster as more rubber goes down. But qualifying is important at Detroit because passing is so difficult.

We worked pretty hard all weekend to get the car going fast. In qualifying I just kept pushing it harder and harder. There was still more in the car, but the limit is so high. On new tyres there was a big jump in grip there for everybody from the old tyres. We did a couple of things to the back of the car and we were struggling with the balance. I told the guys in the morning that I needed the car to handle a certain way and if they gave me that in the car we'd be up at the front.

The Team KOOL Green engineers did a great job! I set the fastest lap midway through the session, and then Juan equalled it to the thousandth, which is pretty amazing really around a 2.35 mile track. I was disappointed they gave Juan the pole. Fair enough it's in the rule book, but as far as I'm concerned I thought qualifying was about one lap. Not an average of laps, but one lap. It was nice to have the car working well, and Juan and I were pushing each other really hard.

I made a fairly good start, and just tried to keep the pressure on Juan. Detroit is a race about fuel usually, so in the early stages there was no need to push too hard. Helio was fairly close behind, but again it's a tough track to make a pass on, and I was comfortable.

The car was going fine up until the first stop. Then, just after, the problem started. Basically the right front brake duct broke and lodged in the suspension. I didn't know what happened and I couldn't see the broken part.

As soon as it went the handling of the car changed immediately. I got on the radio to the team and said 'Something's just gone crazy with the car – it's just trying to turn right on the straight.' It was really like a rear suspension part had broken or something. So I just thought I'd take it easy for a couple of laps, because if something let go I wanted to have at least half a chance to catch it . That was when Gil, Max and Christian got past me and I was down to sixth.

I was a bit disappointed, but there wasn't a lot I could do, just sit there and bide my time and see if something was going to break or whatever. I felt it was a rear shock absorber, because it was understeering through right hand corners big time, killing the front tyres, then oversteering through the lefts. I was thinking 'What's going on here with this thing?'. The team had spotted the duct was broken and worked out that was what the problem was. They told me to hang on in there, and they would try and fix it quickly at the next stop. I saw the temperatures go up because the piece was blocking the radiator. The car was terrible and I was just hanging on.

Or not, in fact, because I went off and grazed the tyres in turn 3! I was pretty lucky really. Because one side of the front brakes wasn't getting any cooling, the rears were working normally, but the fronts were really inefficient, so the rears would lock up. Coming into turn 3 I locked the rears up, and got on the marbles, and out into the rough on the grass, bouncing down the tyre wall, which I must have hit three times. I couldn't believe I got away with it. That was lucky.

So we did the last pit-stop, and they ripped some of the brake duct out . But they didn't get it all, so it was slightly better, but still not good. We went from having a second-placed car to struggling to keep up with the leading pack at the end. Disappointing.

It helped that everyone else seemed to be having problems around me. I was running fifth when we had a yellow (for Moreno I think). I got past Carpentier at that last restart, he made a big mistake. He was trying really hard and got it sideways. I got off the corner nicely and slipstreamed him and dived down his inside. I was happy with that, and then pulled out about nine seconds in the 20 or so laps to the finish.

So fourth place was a good result. It could have been the wall.

After the race I went to see Tony Kanaan in hospital. It seemed quite a nasty crash he had in qualifying. He's OK. Obviously his arm is all plastered up, and his ribs are broken, so I tried not to make him laugh. They fixed his arm with an operation on Sunday morning, and I think he went home on Monday. I don't like hospitals at all, but I had to go and see him, and I hope he's back with us soon.

I'm not big on politics either, so I'm not going to go into all the changes that happened at CART last weekend. What I will say is that I feel this is a good chance for us to get live TV coverage in Europe again now that Bobby Rahal's taken over. I've already put the word to him and we're working hard to get CART back on Eurosport for the whole of Europe, not just British Eurosport. TV coverage of our series is not good in Europe at the moment, and I'd like to apologise to my European fans for the lack of service. Hopefully Bobby will do something about that… And rest assured I'll be nipping his ear!

On the subject of TV coverage, any spare moments I had at Detroit were spent in front of the 'box in my motorhome. Between watching Allan McNish do his stuff at Le Mans, and David Coulthard in Montreal… I was disappointed for DC. The Grand Prix was on at the same time as our race, so I watched the F1 later on tape. He was on fire all weekend, and the start penalty cost him his race.

Le Mans has this almost hypnotic appeal. Every time I got out of the car in practice or qualifying I debriefed with my engineers, and then went to watch Speedvision which was showing the whole race from France – all 24 hours!

McNish was very spectacular, well worth watching. I mean – and he knows better than most -- it's not like me to get up early in the morning at the best of times, let alone to watch a sportscar endurance race on TV…

I think Allan was mega, terrific. I'm sure he'll be disappointed with second place at the end, but he was bloody fast. And it was against quick drivers too, like Tom Kristensen who is also pretty good. Allan should be in a ChampCar… In fact, really he should be in an F1 car, but at the very least he should be in a ChampCar.

Then it's Portland next weekend. This is a really busy part of the schedule, but I'm not complaining. We're flying up there on Wednesday. I think Juan went straight there from Detroit, so I hope to get there in time to hang out with him for a bit and have dinner. Detroit was good from that point of view as a lot of the drivers stayed in motorhomes at the track -- Jimmy Vasser was there and Paul Tracy, Juan and myself... It was funny, Juan rented his coach just before the race, and it had ghastly pink leather seats! It looked bloody awful. I'll bet he changes that pretty soon…

To read more about Dario go to www.franchitti.com

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