Franchitti column

After two podium finishes in a row, Autosport.com columnist Dario Franchitti was an early retirement from the Motorola 300 at Gateway. In his regular column, Dario describes the events at St Louis

Franchitti column


The Gateway race was a disappointing weekend for us especially after the recent run we'd had in the last few races. A couple of podium finishes does wonders for morale, and all of us at Team Kool Green arrived in St Louis ready for the third race in three weekends.

We had fun after the Laguna race the previous weekend. A few of us went off riding Harley Davidsons in the hills. Every year they organise a charity ride, and Jimmy Vasser's involved in it, and so me, Max Papis and Troy Lee -- who designs crash helmet colourschemes. He's been doing Paul Tracy's design for years, and he 'funked' mine up a bit when I first came to America to race in 1997. We kind of cruised round the Napa Valley on these Harleys , and then we ended up taking them off road! Jimmy was looking at some land, so we went off on the bikes - not what they were designed for I'm sure.... It was pretty funny!

The Gateway track is slightly unusual in that it is an oval, but turns one and two are tighter than three and four. We had some momentum going after the results at Vancouver and Laguna. But it just didn't work.

Apart from qualifying it was a pretty bad weekend. We struggled with a balance problem from the start. The only time we really got the car sorted was in qualifying. And it was OK for two laps, but it was right on the edge. It was a hell of an improvement in time, about 4mph faster than we'd been before. For those two laps the car worked really, really well. And I don't know what happened to the other guys, if they were overdriving, or whether set-ups from the morning just didn't work, but for us everything came together for qualifying. It was a bit of a surprise, because we were like the seventh car out or something, and we had all those other people coming after to take a shot at it. Then we finished up fourth, and that was like 'wow!' Paul beat me by 0.014s to take third, and ahead were the Ganassi cars of Juan Montoya and Jimmy.

I got a good start, and I actually got past Paul a bit, but with a 300 mile race I wasn't about to try and drive into my team mate on the first corner! Discretion was the better part of valour, so I backed off a bit. The car was loose immediately, and I was adjusting it with all the weight-jackers and anti-roll bars that we have inside the cockpit, and after 10 laps I'd run out of adjustments, and it was getting looser and looser. After 20 it was pretty much undriveable.

It got to the point where I was cruising round maybe five seconds off the pace trying to keep the thing out of the wall and it was still oversteering, which I've never experienced before. Normally when you slow down you take some pressure off the rear tyre and the car gets better. But this was still oversteering. So we pitted early to put on new tyres, but within five laps it went back to how it was before. Then the gearbox broke on the downshift, and that was the end of my afternoon. Later on Paul's gearbox went too, and put him in the wall. I think Paul and I were the only two people to lose gearboxes this weekend, so that's a bit of a surprise.

The team didn't find the handling problem. I was convinced there was something actually broken on the car, but I think the thing was so badly out of balance, that it just felt that way. We made some changes after the warm-up, and obviously we didn't get it right, and we went in completely the wrong direction. It was really disappointing, to the point where we were really lucky to keep it out of the wall.

We have a weekend off from racing now, although we flew straight to California on Sunday after the race, and we're testing at Fontana on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Our next race is at Houston. It is usually pretty good, it's a street course and we've been pretty good on those this year, and we've been good in the past at Houston.

But this year's championship is incredible. Nobody seems to want to win the title! It's unbelievable, look at the favourites at Gateway: Paul's gearbox goes, and he ends up in the wall. Michael Andretti's engine blows when he's a lap ahead of the field... It would have been a good chance to take advantage and score more points, but we couldn't.

Just three races left - this season has gone by incredibly quickly. My goal now is to get a win under my belt, although as the championship battle gets more tense, everyone will be thinking the same. Whoever said motor racing was easy?!

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