Franchitti column

Autosport.com columnist Dario Franchitti score his second podium in a week at Laguna Seca, moving himself up the championship order after a frustrating start to the season. Here, in his regular column Dario telss us about his weekend.

Franchitti column

The Laguna race wasn't the most enjoyable I've been in, but I can't complain at all about my second straight podium. Third place behind the Team Penske cars was a good result, and now that we're finishing races, I'm creeping up the standings. I was 11th going in to the race 48 points behind the leader, and now I'm eighth, 40 points behind. With only four races left, we'd need a minor miracle - but then that's what this series is so exciting. Anything can happen. But more finishes like that should see us close up more. This part of the season really proves the mettle of the team and driver, and I think myself and the team have proven our ability to score some big points down the home stretch.

We didn't have a very good test at Laguna a couple of weeks before the race, and my team mate Paul Tracy didn't run there at all. So I wasn't expecting the best for Friday. But we have been quick in all the recent races, especially Vancouver, so we knew we had the pace, we just had to find it. By the end of the day we were third behind Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran, so that was pretty good. We still had some work to do, the Penske guys were very quick at Mid-Ohio, but together with my Team Green engineers we worked a bit on the set-up overnight.

Patrick Carpentier had a nasty crash on Friday, with his car launched over a fence. Fortunately Patrick was OK, but we stopped qualifying for two hours while the gravel traps were altered. I think the CART cars have outgrown the track at Laguna. It's a great place, but they need to do some work on the safety there, and also it's very difficult to pass as we saw in the race.

Saturday qualifying was actually slower than Friday. This was mainly because the delay on Friday meant we ran later in the day, and the track conditions were cooler, which made it faster. Still the car was good, I was confident that we'd have a good race.

The start was fairly uneventful for me. I thought I had a chance to get Gil at the first corner, but I didn't want to take the risk. I crashed there last year with Greg, and I didn't want to do that again. I just wanted to stay in sight of the leaders and save fuel, it's so difficult to pass.

We ran third behind Helio and Gil, and I had Juan Montoya behind me. Us four broke away, and pulled out a gap on the rest. But I think we were all waiting for the pit stops, there were no real challenges for position.

We were the first of the lead group to stop, on lap 26. The first stop was good, but somehow Juan Montoya got out ahead of me and Gil. We made some wing changes and the car was better.

About 20 laps later we had a full course yellow, and everyone pitted again. We were at the top end of the pits, so I was one of the first to get going. As I came up to the Penske pit, Gil's team waved him out of the pits right in front of me. It was pretty close I can tell you. That was my one chance to pass, and I was pretty upset, but we've talked about it and we're okay now.

That was it as far as racing was concerned. We were just trying to save fuel. Juan had a problem in his stop, so I was back up to third. And that's how it stayed to the finish.

The guys at Honda just did a great job, the fuel mileage was great. It was just tough to pass. But it's a podium finish, and more points. It also helped that all the championship guys - apart from Gil -- didn't score at all well.
We'll go on to St Louis this weekend and see what happens there.

We've been quite competitive on the ovals this year, scoring a couple of podiums at Japan and Michigan, so I think we'll be in good shape at Gateway this weekend. Paul had a good test there last month and the Team KOOL Green engineers always seem to come up with good set-ups on this type of track.

Being on the podium in the last two races has made me even more motivated to get my first win of the season. The Team KOOL Green car has run consistently strong recently and we just have to keep battling the way we have in the last few races. As I said, I'm convinced we can finish the season with a flourish.

If you're able to win a race or two and be among the leaders in the others, you never know how far you can climb in the standings.

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