Franchitti column

Autosport.com columnist Dario Franchitti put aside the speculation over his future for round nine of the CART FedEx World Series. But there was disappointment as gearbox failure cost him a podium finish with just eight laps to go

Franchitti column

We had a really good race car at Cleveland, and it seems as though we have finally solved the inbalance that we have suffered all year in the Team Kool Green car. Right from first practice the car felt pretty good. The track is very bumpy, what with it being an airport for most of the year, and often the quickest way round is not necessarily the most obvious - sometimes it is the least bumpy.

I ended up with the provisional pole after Friday qualifying which I was pretty happy about. It wasn't a perfect lap, but it was better than the other guys had managed. But we were still working on the car, trying to improve it overnight because we knew Saturday would be a lot faster. When the rubber gets down, the track just gets faster and faster.

Then on Saturday, it was all different. The car just didn't work over the bumps. For that one qualifying lap, when you have to carry that little bit more speed through the corners, it wasn't able to. I think I got the limit out of the car on the first set of tyres. Then we made a couple of adjustments and I pushed to try to go quicker, but it was worse over the bumps. The harder I would try to go quicker, the slower I would go. I'm sure we could have done better, but right at the end we got screwed up by [Roberto] Moreno's spin. We were right in the middle of our fastest lap all weekend, but that spin resulted in an untimely red flag. At the end of the day, we didn't get the job done, and we dropped from first to eighth on the grid.

I know I said in last week's column that the start at Cleveland offered "ample chance for another first corner crash", but I was kind of hoping I wasn't going to be involved this time! From my perspective it was almost an action replay. I turned in and got hit from behind.

CART decided on race morning to put cones out at the first corner for the start, to halve the width of the track. That meant that it was still wide enough for four cars side-by-side, but at the drivers meeting we all told them it was a bad idea. In reality all it did was cut your view of the corner. Can you imagine jostling for position with all these cars braking and accelerating at speed, and then trying to see where the cones are?!It was another typical decision, and if you think about it we, as drivers, are paid good money to do what we do, and if we can't manage to get around a corner without having cones then something's wrong.

Then, just like last week in Portland I just had to get on with it. As we were last, we decided to pit on lap 3 to top up the fuel. We wouldn't lose any position, and we would get three more laps in the pit window, which is always useful. At the re-start I was 16th, and I have to say the car was awesome. In the fast corners around the back I could carry the speed through, and that made passing fairly straightforward. By the time the rest came in for their first pit stops, I was up to ninth, and when it had all sorted itself out I was seventh.

Moreno was leading, but from second to ninth we were running nose-to-tail. I moved to sixth on lap 58, fifth on the next lap and fourth on lap 64. We made our second stop on lap 68, but unfortunately I lost a place to Michael Andretti. By rights we could have got to the flag without stopping again. We reckoned that Moreno and Brack would have to stop for a splash n' dash in the closing stages, so for us it was looking the business.

Then we had a yellow. At the restart, Brack and Andretti ran side-by-side, and I just sat back in fourth waiting for something to happen. Michael had to run wide, so I pulled up alongside him, and he moved over on me. But I had a good run going and had a bit of a lunge up the inside at the next corner. I was determined to get that place back. It is such a fast corner there that he had to let me go, or he would have gone off, and as I said, my car was really good through there.

So there we were in third place, feeling sure that the guys in front might have to stop. In any case, a podium position from last place would have been reward for a hard day's work. Then, with no warning the gearbox went with eight laps to go, and that was the end of our day.

We have a little break now - basically a weekend without a race! Then we have another three on the trot, Toronto, Michigan and Chigago; a street course, a superspeedway and an oval. You can't say the CART championship lacks variety!

I took the opportunity to go home to the UK for a couple of days immediately after Cleveland. After all, my family is very considerate in that my mother, father and brother have birthdays on consecutive days this week, and it's also my parents' wedding anniversary at the same time. It's nice that they all happen together, but it can get bloody expensive!

Then it's straight back to Chicago for two days of testing, before moving on to Toronto. As I said I think we have cured the handling problem that we've carried all season so far, and, providing I can get through the first corner without being assaulted, perhaps we can get a good run at Toronto. I won there last year, and was on pole the year before, so it's a circuit that I like.

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