Franchitti column

Autosport.com's columnist Dario Franchitti's season came to a premature end when engine failure forced him out of second place in the rain-delayed race in California on Monday morning. Now, as he tells us in his regular column, it's time to recharge the batteries

Franchitti column

I guess the race at Fontana summed up my season entirely. We had a great car, were running comfortably in second place -- and then we were out. This time it was an engine failure, and we've had precious few of those this year. It's just been one thing after another.

We worked on race set-up all weekend. As I've said before, 500 mile races are all about getting the car right. On a superspeedway, you can't drive round a handling problem, so it's vital that the set-up is right.

We'd been testing at Fontana already and we worked hard and got a bloody good car. Between my two engineers at Team Green, Tino Belli and Steve Challis they did a good job, and everything was sweet.

We didn't have the fastest car in qualifying, but at Fontana, who cares? In two laps we were up the front anyway! I wasn't doing anything, not pushing hard, and I could run right behind people in the turns and get a good draft. I had leaned out on the fuel and we were getting good mileage. At the first stop we made up a couple of places, and everything was looking good. Then it started to spit with rain, so there was a yellow. But the rain got harder, and eventually there was a red flag. I decided to stay in the car, as it was running so well, I was hoping the rain would stop and we would get going again. It nearly did, but then it began to rain properly, and that was it for the day.

People asked me how easy it is to switch off from 'race mode', but I have no problem with that. I just went and sat in my bus and watched the Cannonball Run on TV! I just switched off completely. Jimmy Vasser also came over to my bus, and Tony Kanaan popped in to tell us Alex Zanardi was cooking pasta. So we went and sat with them, and some of Juan's friends eating pasta, and then ice cream! It was a bit like an end of term, just having a good time. Then Monday morning, I got up, and felt instantly right on the game. You just switch back on.

For a Monday morning I was surprised at the size of the crowd that came for the rest of the race. I think there were a few phantom illnesses around some of the factories and offices in the Fontana area on Monday...

With all the rain, we thought the track conditions would have changed, and we weren't sure what to do with the car. There was no warm-up or anything, so in the end we decided not to change anything. We just went out there with the car as it was on Sunday, and again it was fine. I passed Montoya, and I was sitting behind Andretti just cruising. I didn't pass him, because you don't want to lead at Fontana, so everything was good. The car was just perfect. Then, across the start/finish line it just started slowing down. It just got tighter and tighter. It was an engine failure of some sort. And that was that, game over. We really had a great race car. I feel sorry for the guys again, because they worked their arses off this year, and we got nothing. You know, we stayed over that extra day for just five more laps...

My refueller is a guy called Keith Badger. He's basically had enough of being on the road, and he's decided he wants to be shop-based now, so Fontana was his last race. We had some caps made with "BLT" on the front, which is "Badger's Last Trip". Basically it's his speed that dictates the speed of the stop. His last one was a 10 second one on Sunday, which made us up a couple of places. And a lot of fuel went in, it wasn't like a short stop or anything. So it was nice that his last stop was a good one.

So that was 2000. I'm glad the season's over -- obviously no-one wants a season like that at all. There's not very many times this year that I've had a car that I felt I could win a race with; Vancouver and here at Fontana spring to mind, and the luck wasn't there when we needed it.

I'm going back to Scotland for a bit, recharge the batteries and catch up with friends. I've only been back once for two days in May this year. I'm going to go and watch the British round of the World Rally Championship later this month. I'm going to see Colin McRae, Richards Burns and his co-driver Robert Reid who's also a good friend of mine. They have an exciting end to the season, and both Colin and Richard can still win the championship.

After the break, it'll be time to focus on next year. We're restricted on testing to just 10 days, so it's important to make every one count. It'll also be interesting having Michael Andretti joining us as part of the team. It should be very positive for everyone.

I'd also like to offer my congratulations to Gil de Ferran on winning the championship. Gil's been one of the revelations of this year I think. He's obviously made the Penske combination very competitive, Gil's been trying his hardest and been winning races, and he's always been on the pace and pushing. A deserving champion.

Finally I'd like to thank everyone for their support this year. The number of flags and fans at each race is always surprising, and it's nice to see people getting behind you. Next year let's hope we can all have something to cheer!

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